Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘arrested for sleeping’

This Crow Won’t Fly

The United States has a long history of using mean-spirited and often brutal laws to keep “certain” people out of public spaces and out of public consciousness.  Jim Crow laws segregated the South after the Civil War and Sundown Towns forced people to leave town before the sun set. The anti-Okie law of 1930s California forbade poor Dustbowl immigrants from entering the state and Ugly Laws (on the books in Chicago until the 1970s) swept the country and criminalized people with disabilities for allowing themselves to be seen in public.

Today, such laws target mostly homeless people and are commonly called “quality of life” or “nuisance crimes.”  They criminalize sleeping, standing, sitting, and even food-sharing.  Just like the laws from our past, they deny people their right to exist in local communities.

In June of this year, Rhode Island took a meaningful stand against this criminalization, and passed the first statewide Homeless Bill of Rights in the country. The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)—a West Coast grassroots network of homeless people’s organizations—is now launching simultaneous campaigns in California and Oregon. Rhode Island will only be the beginning.

Today’s “quality of life” laws and ordinances have their roots in the broken-windows theory.  This theory holds that one poor person in a neighborhood is like a first unrepaired broken window and if the “window” is not immediately fixed or removed, it is a signal that no one cares, disorder will flourish, and the community will go to hell in a handbasket.

For this theory to make sense, you first have to step away from thinking of people, or at least poor people, as human beings. You need to objectify them. You need to see them as dusty broken windows in a vacant building.  That is why we now have Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) with police enforcement to keep that neighborhood flourishing by keeping poor, unsightly people out of it.

We have gone from the days where people could be told “you can’t sit at this lunch counter” to “you can’t sit on this sidewalk,” from “don’t let the sun set on you here” to “this public park closes at dusk” and from “you’re on the wrong side of the tracks” to “it is illegal to hang out” on this street or corner.

Unless we organize, it isn’t going to get much better soon.   Since 1982, the federal government has cut up to $52 billion a year from affordable housing and pushed hundreds of thousands of people into the  shelter system or into the street.  Today we continue to have three million people a year without homes.  1982 also marked the beginning of homelessness as a “crime wave” that would consume the efforts of local and state police forces over the next three decades.  Millions of people across the country sitting, lying down, hanging out, and — perhaps worst of all – sleeping are cited in crime statistics.
WRAP and our allies recently conducted outreach to over 700 homeless people in 13 cities; we found 77% of people had been arrested, cited, or harassed for sleeping, 75% for loitering, and 73% for sitting on a sidewalk.

We are right back to Jim Crow Laws, Sundown Towns, Ugly Laws and Anti-Okie Laws, local laws that profess to “uphold the locally accepted obligations of civility.” Such laws have always been used by people in power against those on the outside. In other words, today’s Business Improvement Districts and Broken Window Laws are, at their core, a reincarnation of various phases of American history none of us is proud of.

And they reflect a political voice now openly entering the political and media mainstream that dismisses social justice as economically irrelevant and poor people as humanly irrelevant.

This is not about caring for or even advocating for “those people.” This is about all of us. As Aboriginal leader Lilla Watson said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  If you are not homeless, if you are not the target now, then understand that you are next. Isolated and fragmented, we lose this fight.

But we are no longer isolated and fragmented.  On April 1, WRAP and USCAI (US Canadian Alliance of Inhabitants) sponsored a  Day of Action in 17 cities.  We are one of hundreds of organizations and allies, from Massachusetts to NewYork and from Tennessee to California, all separate but all working together to give meaning to social justice and protect the civil and human rights of all of us.

We can only win this struggle if we use our collective strengths, organizing, outreach, research, public education, artwork, and direct actions. We are continuing to expand our network of organizations and cities and we will ultimately bring down the whole oppressive system of policing poverty and treating poor people as “broken windows” to be discarded and replaced.

To join our campaign for a Homeless Bill of Rights in both California and Oregon contact WRAP at wrap@wraphome.org and we will hook you up with organizers working in both of these states or others as this movement continues to grow.

 

Posted on August 27, 2012 by WRAP Comms

This Crow Won’t Fly:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2466&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Criminalization Fact Sheet:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2474&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Read Full Post »

 


Anti-Okie Laws

The agricultural workers who migrated to California for work in the 1900s were generally referred to as “Okies”. They were assumed to be from Oklahoma, but they moved to California from other states, as well. The term became derogatory in the 1930s when massive numbers of people migrated West to find work. In 1937, California passed an “anti-Okie” law which made it a misdemeanor to “bring or assist in bringing” extremely poor people into the state. The law was later considered unconstitutional.

Jim Crow Laws

After the American Civil War (1861-1865), most Southern states passed laws denying black people basic human rights. Later, many border states followed suit. These laws became known as Jim Crow laws after the name of a popular black-face character that would sing songs like “Jump Jim Crow.” In California, Jim Crow played out against Chinese immigrants more than black people. From 1866-1947, Chinese residents of San Francisco were forced to live in one area of the city. The same segregation laws prohibited inter-racial marriage between Chinese and non-Chinese persons and educational and employment laws were also enforced in the city. African and Indian children had to attend separate schools from those of white children. In 1879, the California constitution read that no Chinese people could vote and the law was not repealed until 1926. Oregon and Idaho had similar provisions in their constitutions. In 1891, a referendum required all Chinese people to carry a “certification of residence” card or face arrest and jail. In 1909, the Japanese were added to the list of people who were prohibited by law from marrying white people. In 1913, “Alien Land Laws” were passed that prohibited any Asian people from owning or leasing property. The law was not struck down by the California Supreme Court until 1952.

Ugly Laws

From the 1860s to the 1970s, several American cities had laws that made it illegal for people with “unsightly or disgusting” disabilities to appear in public. Some of these laws were called “unsightly beggar ordinances”. The first ordinance was in San Francisco in 1867, but the most commonly cited law was from Chicago. Chicago Municipal Code section 36034 stated: “No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.”

Operation Wetback

Operation Wetback began in 1954 in California and Arizona as an effort to remove all illegal, Mexican immigrants from the Southwestern states. The Operation was by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and coordinated 1,075 border control agents along with state and local police agencies. The agents went house-to-house looking for Mexicans and performed citizenship checks during traffic stops. They would stop any “Mexican-looking” person on the street and insist on seeing identification. Operation Wetback was only abandoned after a large outcry from opponents in both the United States and Mexico.

Sundown Towns

Sundown Towns did not allow people who were considered “minorities” to remain in the town after the sun set. Some towns posted signs at their borders specifically telling people of color to not let the sun set on them while in the town. There were town policies and real estate covenants in place to support the racism, which was enforced by local police officers. Sundown Towns existed throughout the United States and there were thousands of them before the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited racial discrimination in housing practices. Sundown Towns simply did not want certain ethnic groups to stay in their towns at night. If undesired people were to wander into a Sundown Town after the sun had set, they would be subject to any form of punishment from harassment to lynching. While the state of Illinois had the highest number of Sundown Towns, they were a national phenomenon that mostly targeted anyone of African, Chinese, and Jewish heritage.

Today…… Broken Windows Laws Current “Quality of Life” laws also take a certain population into account: homeless persons. Using these laws, people are criminalized for simply walking, standing, sleeping, and other regular human behaviors. In other words, they are penalized and harassed simply because of who they are. Just as with Jim Crow, Ugly Laws, Anti-Okie Laws, and Operation Wetback, how people look and their very existence is the basis for charging them with criminal behaviors.

Posted on August 27, 2012 by WRAP Comms

This Crow Won’t Fly:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2466&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Criminalization Fact Sheet:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2474&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Read Full Post »

Sidewalks Are For The People

Posted on by WRAP Comms

In 2009, cops in San Francisco cited homeless people 2600 times just for being asleep That’s almost as many arrests as for all violent crimes combined. And yet late that year, the most cynical of the city’s politicians determined that what was really needed was a new law to address the aspects of homelessness they claimed to find most objectionable: A law that would make it a crime to… sit down.

San Francisco tried a sit/lie law in 1968. It was found unconstitutional thrice before being taken off the books. Police chief-turned-mayor Frank Jordan tried to introduce such a law again in 1994, but it was ultimately rejected by the voters. But the immediate impetus behind the proposed sit/lie law came from Portland. Portland has had a series of sit/lie laws that have been struck down by state courts, but despite these failures, a trip to Portland sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce led conservative politicos to think that such a law might be a good idea for San Francisco.

STAND AGAINST SIT/LIE

The media hysteria that followed the early proposals of a new sit/lie law focused on homeless youth living in and near Golden Gate Park and the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. According to the SF Chronicle these youth weren’t homeless: They were Devil-may-care trust-fundies reveling in smack and booze on mummy and daddy’s dime, whilst terrorizing the neighborhood with their pit bulls. Residents of the Haight were scared to leave their houses. Several of the stories reported in the mainstream press about atrocities committed by homeless youth were proven to be false, and the neighborhood’s only residents’ association opposed a sit/lie law, but spurred on by conservative columnists Mayor Gavin Newsom was able to appear to be responding to a neighborhood demand when he submitted the law to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The Chamber of Commerce stalked the corridors of City Hall, threatening Supervisors with an election war chest of $400,000 to support the sit/lie law and lend support to candidates who would do the same.  Homeless people comprise maybe 2.5% of the population in the City of San Francisco and through smart organizing and advocacy, the SF Coalition on Homelessness has been able to wield an influence disproportionate to its size, but their volunteers and organizers ran into a lot of weak handshakes and frozen smiles. “We can’t just be the party of ‘No,’” Supervisors would object.

Homeless people testified in front of the Youth Commission and won that body’s opposition to a sit/lie law. They also persuaded the Planning Commission to register its opposition to sit/lie. Even the Small Business Commission refused to support the sit/lie law as it was written, suggesting that a slightly less draconian version might be more palatable. And still the Board of Supervisors vacillated between conscience and fear.

Most of the staff and volunteers of the Coalition on Homelessness had been homeless, but none were “just” homeless: They had experienced homelessness because they were queer, because they were immigrants, because of the structural inequalities in our country that lead to poverty. They reached out, and their broader communities responded. Soon, we had a large committee that truly represented the queer liberation movement, organized labor, day laborers, sex workers, and many other members of the community who had simply been persuaded to give a damn.

SIDEWALKS ARE FOR PEOPLE

The members of this broader coalition outreached to drop-in centers and cafés, galleries, bars, and tenants’ organizations. They carried flyers bearing the slogan “Stand Against Sit/Lie!,” picturing the many ways in which sitting had been criminalized in the past: A sit-in at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro. Sit-ins against the British Raj in India. Drag queens and transgender women at the Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco. Rosa Parks in Montgomery.

The message was heard, and an unexpected group of San Franciscans heeded the call: Public Space Advocates. In March groups organized a citywide event under the banner “Sidewalks are for People!” Everyday San Franciscans from all walks of life would take to the sidewalks for an afternoon, cop a squat, and just do whatever they pleased — Chess games. Poetry readings. Barbecues. Chalk art. Even a hot tub. The first action was phenomenal, with over a hundred actions and literally thousands of participants.

Between the broadened pressure from the many sectors of the community who now recognized sit/lie—and even homelessness—as *their* issue, and the creative and popular appeal of the Sidewalks are for People actions.    the tide turned. Conservative columnists held out, but the media had a hard time resisting the appeal of the campaign, and coverage ceased to be completely one-sided.

Organizers for the campaign obtained a permit to hold a rally on the steps of City Hall the day of the Board of Supervisor’s decision. Homeless youth, day laborers, a union representative, a spokesperson for a queer organization, a civil rights attorney, and a supportive member of the Board were to speak. When they got there, they found that the Sheriff’s Department had barricaded the steps of City Hall, and a line of police stood behind the barricades with arms crossed. For a permitted protest from a group that had always been law-abiding, this was unprecedented. But organizers sat down on the sidewalk, and held their rally anyhow. When they got inside, the Board voted 8-to-3 to oppose the law, with even the moderate members of the Board speaking out against the potential infringements upon civil liberties.

We had won.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, BUY, BUY AGAIN…

Rebuffed by the Board, the Mayor promptly placed sit/lie on the ballot. A truism of San Francisco politics is that neighborhood elections, favor progressive politics: Progressives have the neighborhood infrastructure and the community organizations to create powerful campaigns on a truly local level. But citywide elections favor conservatives, who are able to far outspend progressives. If he couldn’t get his way through the Board, Mayor Newsom was going to bank on… bankers.

Over the course of the summer, the campaign supporting a sit/lie law (calling itself the “Civil Sidewalks Coalition”) spent $411,000 persuading San Franciscans that such a law would create order in the city. The vast majority of this money came from the financial sector, including presidents and partners from Charles Schwab, Morgan Stanley, and the Bank of America. Commercials prominently featuring the Chief of Police were aired throughout the lead-up to the playoffs, during the championship and after each World Series game.

With a budget of less than $10,000, the opponents of the law—the Sidewalks are for People Coalition—put up a mean fight. They designed engaging tabloids and door-hangers, and went door-to-door in projected swing neighborhoods. They maintained a place in the media, through creative actions that included multiple drag shows, the musical genius of the Brass Liberation Orchestra, and a religious revival led by the renowned Reverend Billy.

In the end, however, the Sit/Lie law passed with 54% of the vote, aided by the phenomenal inequality of the campaign budgets, buying air time during the SF Giants success, the sense among many occasional voters that it would never pass in San Francisco, and a low voter turn-out in the two poorest districts.

THIS FIGHT AIN’T OVER

The night of the election, as results came in, spontaneous sit-ins happened in three different parts of the city. Within a week, hundreds of people got involved in other protests, organized by people who had not previously been part of the campaign. With core campaign organizers exhausted or burnt out, other organizations began planning their own actions. In a very, very important sense, we won: This was not something that other progressives in San Francisco had just let happen to homeless people: When we lost, we *all* lost. And there was no way we were going to take this loss lying down. Well… Maybe defiantly lying down.

Community groups have coalesced around the recognition that criminalizing any one group of us criminalizes us all. Saturday, December 18, we held the first Sidewalks are for People Day since the election, reclaiming the sidewalk now that sidewalk rest has become criminalized. With hundreds of people and over a dozen actions, this fight is not over yet.

At the same time, the Coalition on Homelessness has begun developing documentation and know-your-rights trainings for members of our community who are cited or threatened with citation.  Simultaneously, attorneys from the ACLU and Disability Rights Advocates, as well as independent attorneys, have begun work developing legal strategies to challenge what we believe to be an unconstitutional law.

Through coordinated documentation, litigation, and through public pressure on our legislators, on a new mayoral administration, on the media, and on the consciences of our fellow San Franciscans, we know ultimately we will win.

WRAP was formed to unite the voices, talents and energy of the awesome
social justice work happening locally in our communities throughout the West
Coast. Through our member groups’ outreach, community forums, WRAP
workgroups, and collective actions, we are creating a unified message that
amplifies the voices of the many organizations that fight for poor people.
Our widely distributed and updated report Without Housing (2006 & 2010) has
established us as a recognized presence – both in Washington DC and across
the country.

Read Full Post »