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The Quality of Whose Life? Final Part

Linocut by Art Hazelwood

 

Author’s Note: This is the final part in “The Quality of Whose Life?” series.  It focuses on the proliferation of “quality of life” laws across the country that make it a crime to sit or lie on a sidewalk, sleep outside, panhandle, and urinate or defecate in public even when suitable alternatives do not exist. “These repressive new laws trample on the constitutional rights of the poorest of the poor, but few people are even aware of the massive extent of these human rights violations because they are targeted at people who are almost invisible to mainstream society, explains Terry Messman, editor of Street Spirit. “The sheer inhumanity of these discriminatory laws would cause an immediate outcry if imposed on any other minority group in our society.”

“Quality of life” laws are usually part of the gentrification and redevelopment of downtowns and they are enforced in conjunction with the closure of public parks, banning of free food and clothing distribution, and banishment policies like trespass admonishments. To gain public support for passing these laws, officials promise homeless services that seldom get fully implemented.

Part 1 introduced the series, Part 2 examined the broken windows theory that these laws are based on, and Part 3 showed how these laws revive the disgraced vagrancy and banishment frameworks found in Ugly Laws, Sundown Towns, and Bum Blockades. This concluding part details what four West Coast cities have done and are doing to expose and challenge these unjust and discriminatory laws. Their efforts illustrate the dedicated work that is being done across the country. 

Congress and the President recently negotiated how intense this round of the bipartisan war on the middle class and poor will be. The situation will only get worse if Representative Paul Ryan and company get their way.  In this “winner-take-all” social order, “quality of life” laws establish control over shopping and business districts and push the collateral human damage out of sight.  It is a social order that masks and suppresses untenable inequality and cruelty.

The aggressiveness by which “quality of life” laws are enforced varies from place to place depending on local politics, police departments, and community opposition, but three things are consistent across the country. Downtown business alliances and Chambers of Commerce wield too much power over the process, urban public space is being privatized, and poor and homeless people are being stripped of basic citizenship rights.

Civic determination and private resources support “quality of life” restrictions. Chambers of Commerce, business alliances, city officials, and consulting groups meet to share expertise and troubleshoot obstacles.  For example, in 2007, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce sponsored representatives from the Business Alliance of Portland to come to San Francisco to present Portland’s “Street Access For Everyone” plan to city officials. The plan included a sit/lie ordinance. A few years later, Mayor Gavin Newsom introduced a sit/lie ordinance for San Francisco.

Resisting A Filthy, Rotten System

Local social justice groups like the ones we detail below are at the center of opposing what Dorothy Day once described as “our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”  They are forceful and often successful in confronting this trend in individual cities, but they also recognize that as long as this work remains isolated by geography and jurisdictional limitations, it is no match for the formidable wave of power and money that is sweeping the country.

In recognition of this reality, seven west coast groups came together to create a social justice alliance that has communities working jointly whenever and wherever needed.  In 2005, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness (the Coalition), Sisters Of The Road (Sisters), Street Roots, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Street Spirit, and Real Change became founding members of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP).  We recognized that only by joining forces, first regionally, then nationally, can we build a movement strong enough to counter the ongoing assaults on poor people and present injustices like the current “quality of life” laws.

For this final part, we look at the groups that make up WRAP.  We highlight the multifaceted civil rights work they are doing to educate, activate, and defend their communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Berkeley. Strategies include research, public education, grassroots media, community organizing, advocacy, Community Watch, and citation defense. We conclude with the collaborative work that is being done as WRAP to challenge “quality of life” laws at the regional and national level.

Los Angeles – LA CAN

The Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles is the most heavily policed area outside of Baghdad. In the three years of the Skid Row Safer Cities Initiative, 36,000 “quality of life” citations were issued and more than 27,000 arrests were made in a 50-square block community of 15,000 people who are mostly poor African Americans. These mind boggling statistics give Skid Row the notorious distinction of being ground zero for “quality of life” policing.

Photo Credit: LA CAN

To educate, mobilize, and share the stories of their community, LA CAN produces the Community Connection newspaper, their rendition of the North Star and Liberator. Community Connection covers policing, housing, health, budgetary, and other community issues from the perspective of Skid Row residents.  At the end of 2010, LA CAN also released an influential human rights assessment on the negative impacts of the Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row. Most recently, they published Downtown Blues: A Skid Row Reader, which explores the struggles against displacement, misrepresentation, and civil rights violations in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. In February, a release party for the book at the University of Southern California featured contributors Robin D.G. Kelley, Cedric J. Robinson, Clyde Woods, Pete White, General Dogon, Gary Blasi, Damien Schnyder, LisaGay Hamilton, and Jonathan Gomez. Over 100 people attended the event in celebration of Black History Month.

LA CAN has fearlessly attempted to address the police’s “culture of abuse” through official channels at the local level.  They have used public records and declarations to illustrate illegal actions, public testimony to the Public Safety Committee and City Council, and, with the help of the ACLU and civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, lodged a complaint in federal court that found LAPD — by its own admission — guilty of illegal stops and seizures in Skid Row. Since most attempts have been rebuffed, they submitted a color of law complaint to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and are now in conversation with DOJ staff over the violations that need to be addressed.

In 2005, LA CAN launched a Community Watch program to reduce the harmful impacts of unaddressed state and private security violence. Teams of four LA CAN members patrol the neighborhood with clipboards and a video camera, monitor the police and Business Improvement District security guards known as “red” or “purple” shirts, and gather evidence when the civil rights of residents are violated. Their presence and documentation ensures fewer incidents of brutality and racial profiling. The Nation has recognized Community Watch as “One of the Top Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets.”

LA CAN also runs a legal clinic that provides education, services, and representation to help low-income tenants and homeless Skid Row residents get their housing needs met. In 2007, they launched a Citation Defense Program in response to the dramatic increase in “quality of life” citations (roughly 1,000 a month) issued under the Safer Cities Initiative.

In order to break the vicious cycle of poverty, incarceration, and disenfranchisement in Skid Row, LA CAN teamed up with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Fulbright and Jaworski, LLP, and other law firms working pro bono to defend Skid Row residents.  Of the 700 tickets handled by the clinic in 2009, 90% were issued for crosswalk violations like jaywalking.  Among the 700 tickets from 2009 that have been resolved to date, 86% had the charges and/or all penalties dismissed and an additional 10% had the community service penalty significantly reduced. Amongst those who reported their disability status on intake forms for the tickets, 60% had a disability.

Through the legal clinic, organizers were also able to identify a resurgence of illegal property confiscation by LAPD from homeless residents.  Again with pro bono legal support, residents claimed initial victory when a Temporary Restraining Order was issued on April 22, 2011 to prevent LAPD and the City’s Public Works Department from seizing or destroying personal property without following proper procedures.

General Dogon, a LA CAN organizer and Skid Row resident, summed up the paradox of punishing the poor this way, “How do you criminalize the blind for being blind or the lame for being lame? If a man don’t have no where to go, he don’t have a job, and the city don’t have nothing to offer him, you can’t criminalize the man for that and this is what they’re doing. The cold part about that is, on this street right here, Main Street, they were allowing the yuppies to sit on the sidewalk. That’s the new in-crowd, and the city is supporting them. They’re the ones getting everything.”

San Francisco – The Coalition

San Francisco suffers similar harassment.  Since the mid-1990s, San Francisco police have issued well over 100,000 citations for minor offenses that target homeless people on the streets.  While these citations do not allow incarceration, the failure to pay the fine is a misdemeanor. Since most homeless people cannot afford to pay the fines, warrants are issued for their arrest.  The end result is that up to 25% of the people in the San Francisco County Jail are homeless.

Outstanding bench warrants for these misdemeanors can also block access to housing and other services needed to exit homelessness. To provide some defense for its community, the Coalition initiated the Citation Defense Program in 1995. Volunteer outreach workers collect citation information and narratives, which they give to pro bono attorneys who provide representation in court. Over the past several years, the Citation Defense Program represented roughly a quarter of all “quality of life” citations issued in San Francisco. The attorneys in these cases have a 97% success rate for getting cases either discharged, dismissed, or fines stayed in guilty findings. LA CAN and Berkeley’s Citation Defense Programs were modeled on the Coalition’s.

In addition to outreach and citation defense, the Coalition has documented police and other government employee harassment and court inequalities to better protect homeless people from injustice and uses its newspaper, Street Sheet, to educate and mobilize the community against anti-homeless measures.  It also used video documentation to end a Department of Public Works program called “Operation Scrubdown” in 2008. Operation Scrubdown sent police-escorted water trucks through the Tenderloin, a neighborhood where homeless people sleep on the sidewalks.  Every morning before dawn, the trucks power blasted the sidewalks and hosed down sleepers with water and a cleaning agent that city officials identified only as “lemon.”  The video documentation brought media attention to this inhumane practice, which led to the program’s termination.

In 2009, the City of San Francisco opened a new Community Justice Center (CJC) in the Tenderloin neighborhood, against the wishes of the electorate. It targeted homeless people, half of whom were charged with no crime other than sleeping outside. Because the City and the courts claimed that they could not provide documentation of the cases heard at CJC, the Coalition attended court almost daily for three months and collected every court calendar that was produced in order to document the injustices occurring.  Although the Coalition was unsuccessful at closing down CJC, the court began to document its work and move away from a homeless focus toward more serious crimes.

In 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors considered a sit/lie law to make sitting or lying down on the sidewalk a criminal act. The Coalition produced reports on the effects of similar laws on small business in other cities, the impact on real crime in other cities, the constitutionality of the law, racially unequal enforcement of similar laws, and the impacts of criminalization on homeless people’s daily lives and on their chances of housing access. This documentation and reporting, in combination with meeting with public officials, public actions, and strong community organizing, led to the Board ultimately deciding to oppose the law.

The law then barely passed in the November election after a $400,000 media campaign that was aired during the San Francisco Giants World Series and financed by individuals from Charles Schwab, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America. However, with less than $10,000, the Coalition and a newly formed group, Sidewalks Are For People Coalition,  reduced support by 16% from just nine months earlier.

Photo Credit: Sidewalks Are For People Campaign

Since then, Coalition civil rights organizer Bob Offer-Westort writes, “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 fellow San Franciscans, we know ultimately we will win.”

Portland, Oregon – Sisters and Street Roots

In Portland, Sisters Of The Road (Sisters) and Street Roots have been at the forefront of resistance to “quality of life” measures, including a camping ban and sit/lie ordinance. In 2003, Sisters and Street Roots launched the Right to Sleep Campaign, urging City Hall to look at alternatives to criminalization measures that target individuals living on the streets. In their newspaper, Street Roots highlighted the civil rights issues faced by people experiencing homelessness through in-depth reporting on private security in downtown Portland and how it relates to the criminalization of homelessness. Over the years, the newspaper reported on a number of criminalization efforts, including alternatives to the camping, sit-lie, and Drug Free Zones. Due to community pressure and legal challenges, the sit/lie ordinance was twice struck down as unconstitutional in 2004 and 2009.

 

Photo Credit: Michael Lloyd/Oregonian

In 2010, the city proposed another version of the sit-lie law called the Sidewalk Management Ordinance. In response, Sisters organized an action in celebration of sidewalks being for everyone that was attended by over 200 unhoused and housed allies who then marched to City Hall to testify against the measure.  Sisters exposed the classism and bias of the new ordinance in a public statement they used in their media work, outreach to the community, and in City Council hearings.

Sisters also gave a presentation to the city’s Human Rights Commission on the history of the two previous sit/lie ordinances, how it had been used against homeless people, and how the Council was manipulating the issue to make the new ordinance seem like it was about mobility rights for “differently-abled” people.  They specifically objected to the way the ordinance used the Americans with Disabilities Act. Homeless people were targeted for blocking sidewalk access for people with disabilities even though the Portland Housing Bureau recently found that 47% of homeless people had a high risk of mortality caused by untreated disabilities.

A week after the presentation, the Human Rights Commission took a public stand against the ordinance. At the next City Council hearing on the ordinance, three Commissioners testified that it violated human rights and the City Council should vote no on it.

Despite these efforts the ordinance passed. Sisters immediately switched gears and launched a “know-your-rights” campaign. They did street outreach that included handing out 2,000 flyers to educate Portlanders on their rights under the law and invited them to organize with them to oppose the ordinance. Sisters’ organizer Chani Geigle-Teller notes, “Largely because of this organizing on the streets, conversation by conversation, our weekly Civil Rights Workgroup consistently has over 12 volunteers who come in throughout the week to help us carry out this work!”

Berkeley – BOSS

Berkeley, another “liberal” city, is now considering its own no-sitting ban to go along with a no-lie ordinance passed in 2007 under Mayor Bates’ Public Commons for Everyone Initiative.  Since the 1990s, there have been multiple attempts by merchant associations such as the Downtown Berkeley Association and Downtown Berkeley Business Improvement District, the Mayor’s office, and City Council to clear out homeless people from People’s Park and the shopping districts along Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues.

Like anti-homeless measures in other cities, the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative promised a mixture of services and policing. Largely due to pressure from groups like BOSS, East Bay Community Law Center, and Homeless Action Center, the city made a little progress on outreach, Social Security Income advocacy, extension of public bathroom hours, treatment services, and addressing harassment complaints against the Berkeley HOST Program (a private ambassador program paid by the city to patrol the downtown area).  But it has fallen woefully short on providing housing and other services that were promised.

Photo Credit: Janny Castillo, BOSS

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association are now pushing to ban sitting on the sidewalk. The Chamber of Commerce says the ban is necessary to curtail negative behavior and scary pets that are frightening people away from the downtown area. Advocates argue that there are laws already in place to address these issues and the new ban will target homeless people. Like the new sit/lie law in San Francisco, Berkeley’s latest effort directly targets homeless youth. To assert any homeless person’s right to exist in public space, BOSS and allies organized a “sit down for justice” action last month. Michael Diehl, a long-time community activist led a sit-in and demonstration that drew local news and passersby. UC Berkeley students from the Suitcase Clinic and other student groups joined the sit-in. Later that evening, the group marched to a Berkeley City Council meeting to speak out against the sit ordinance and its likely negative impact on the homeless population.

To focus public attention on this growing trend of discriminatory laws and reclaim public commons in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Portland, WRAP, the Coalition, BOSS, Sisters, Right to Survive, and other allies coordinated a “Sidewalks Are For People Day” on May 22, 2011. This three-city action is a small example of the type of collaboration and solidarity that is needed to overcome the civil and human rights issues raised in this series.

As shown by the work described above, local civil rights efforts have been effective at curtailing the level of criminalization in individual neighborhoods and cities.  They have led to many successful actions and put pressure on mayors, police chiefs, local human rights commissions, and even the DOJ, to begin responding to these widespread abuses. Important victories have been won, but they have been separated by geographical boundaries.   They need to be joined and that is the mission of WRAP.

Coming Together For A More Inclusive Quality of Life

WRAP is creating an organizing model that builds strategic relationships across local boundaries and unites community organizers, poverty and civil rights activists, students, the faith community, public defenders and progressive lawyers in the civil rights struggle.

In our short history, we have organized a regional “House Keys not Handcuffs” action in San Francisco that brought together over 1,000 people from up and down the West Coast to demand the federal government begin addressing our civil rights and housing issues.  We are now organizing a Community Congress for August that will bring together our member organizations and hundreds of grassroots leaders from their communities. It will include know-your-rights, citation defense, and Community Watch trainings, as well as strategic planning on how we can combat discriminatory “quality of life” laws, enforcement, prosecution, and homeless courts on a regional level.

WRAP has also documented the impact of “quality of life” policing on over 300 self-identified homeless and mentally ill people in six cities.  Our research found that nearly 80% of the people surveyed had been stopped, arrested, or cited for “quality of life” offenses, 60% were harassed by Business Improvement District private security, and 29% had lost their housing or were discharged from a program due to incarceration. This coming June, we will use this research on a criminalization panel and Congressional briefing that are part of the National Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s Forum on the Right to Housing in Washington, DC.

We are in the beginning stages of building a movement.  The recession, jobless recovery, and gridlock in Washington, DC lay bare the bankruptcy of the current system. Never has the need and imperative been more critical to defend the due process and civil rights of those being criminalized as more of our neighbors are forced onto the streets.  But in the end “defense” is not enough. We must also assert a vision for the future that reflects our humanity and interconnection. We all need a safe place to call home, freedom from fear and want, nutritious food and health care to sustain our bodies, education and culture to expand our minds, and dignified work.

Throughout the many civil rights struggles in our nation’s past, communities have bound together to fight for a more inclusive democracy. The abolitionist, women’s rights, labor, civil rights, disability rights, and environmental movement have all shown that change happens on a large scale only when pockets of resistance create a network of support and solidarity. The collective resistance forming to the present injustice of “quality of life” laws is no different.

Will you join in this movement for a better quality of life for everyone?

Special thanks to Marlene Griffith, Casey Gallagher, Becky Dennison, Chani Geigle-Teller, Israel Bayer, Bob Offer-Westort, Janny Castillo, and Michael Diehl for their contributions to this article.

http://wraphome.org/pages/?p=1218&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

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by Paul Boden Nov 18, 2010
Organizing Director, Western Regional Advocacy Project

This is the third article in a series we’re writing on Quality of Life ordinances, our contemporary version of the vagrancy laws that have been with us for centuries. In the South, they were used to force freed slaves back to the plantation. In the North, they were used to instill a Protestant work ethic in indigent whites. This compulsion to control labor and separate the “worthy” from the “unworthy” is deeply ingrained in our culture and institutions.

In the previous part of this series, we showed how the Broken Windows Theory put a new spin on this old theme. In this segment, we draw comparisons to three specific episodes in our history and thus hope to shake the complacency surrounding our present civil rights failures. If we don’t, future generations will surely ridicule our hypocrisies as we do those who came before us.

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

How ugly is too ugly? How dark is too dark? How poor is too poor? These perverse questions were at the heart of ugly laws, sundown towns, and the Bum Blockade — unconstitutional predecessors of today’s Quality of Life ordinances.

Unlike the above policies of segregation that brazenly named the objects of their scorn -− “masterless men,” “cripples,” “negroes,” and “Bolshevik bums” −- today’s vagrancy laws are dressed up in post-civil rights legalese. By targeting behaviors like sleeping, lying down, sitting, and urinating in public, Quality of Life ordinances attempt to sidestep the protection afforded by the Civil Rights and Americans with Disabilities Acts.

In reality, this legal fine-tuning is the same old wolf in sheep’s clothing. The ableism, racism, and classism that underwrote yesteryear’s ugly laws, sundown towns, and the Bum Blockade can be found in today’s Quality of Life ordinances.

The words of Martin Luther King Jr. from a Birmingham jail ring as true now as they did in 1963: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Many liberals and progressives, when aware of them, look back at past exclusionary practices with scorn and shame, yet they are silent when it comes to current battles over public space, freedom of movement, and civil rights. We bring the following history to your attention so that we wake up to what Quality of Life ordinances really are.

What follows draws heavily on the scholarship of Susan Schweik, James Loewen, and Hailey Giczy.

The Ugly Laws

Beginning in the second half of the 19th century with San Francisco, other cities including Portland, Chicago, Omaha, Columbus, Cleveland, and Denver began enacting “unsightly beggar ordinances.” These ordinances came to be known as ugly laws. Their main purpose was to control disabled people’s freedom of movement and speech in public space.

Chicago’s 1881 ordinance read: “Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in this city, shall not therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under the penalty of a fine of $1 [about $20 today] for each offense.”

The laws specifically proscribed a person from exposing a disability in public space for the purpose of begging. They were one of the country’s first panhandling laws. A large percentage of ugly laws had “poor house clauses” that banished disabled people to jails or almshouses if they couldn’t pay the fine.

Susan Schweik writes, “The crude elements of ugly law may be broken down roughly as follows: the call for harsh policing; anti-begging; systemized suspicion set up to winnow the deserving from the undeserving; suppression of acts of solidarity by and for marginalized urban social groups; and structural and institutional repulsion of disabled people, whether by design or by default. None of these have disappeared since the demise of formally enacted unsightly beggar ordinances.”

The last known arrest stemming from an ugly law happened in Omaha only 36 years ago. Ugly laws attempted to accomplish what cities are now aiming to achieve with sit/lie and anti-panhandling ordinances: to reinforce social boundaries and marginalize those considered “unsightly” in the newly preserved historic downtowns of the closed city.

Sundown Towns

In response to the upheaval in “race relations” caused by Reconstruction and the Great Migration following the Civil War, white towns from Florida to Oregon barred African Americans and other despised ethnic groups like “Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, Native, and Mexican Americans” from entering them. One such town in Illinois went by the name “Anna,” short for “Ain’t No Niggers Allowed.”

Known as sundown towns, these white supremacist redoubts got their name from the customary signs placed at the entrance of town warning targeted ethnic groups “not to let the sun set on you” within city limits. Government complicity, vigilante justice, and race riots backed these threats.

Lesser known than their southern counterparts — Black Codes and Jim Crow — sundown towns were far from being a marginal phenomenon. There were thousands of them and many could be found in elite suburbs right outside of metropolitan areas like New York City and Chicago.

Loewen concludes, “From the towns that passed sundown ordinances, to the county sheriffs who escorted black would-be residents back across the county line, to the states that passed laws enabling municipalities to zone out ‘undesirables,’ to the federal government — whose lending and insuring policies from the 1930s to 1960s required sundown neighborhoods and suburbs — our governments openly favored white supremacy and helped to create and maintain all-white communities. So did our banks, realtors, and police chiefs.”

The Bum Blockade

“Bolshevik bums.” “Won’t workers.” “Migratory criminals.” “Two-legged locusts.” Los Angeles Police Chief James Davis hurled invectives like these at Dust Bowl refugees in the pages of The Los Angeles Times throughout 1935. Like contemporary Quality of Life campaigns, Chief Davis linked the influx of “Okies” with crime and financial loss to scare up support for his “Bum Blockade.”

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce did its part by stoking nativist resentment. They reported that migrants were costing taxpayers millions of dollars a month in state relief — aid that many struggling Californians were unable to receive. The public relations campaign around the Bum Blockade fueled a nasty parochialism that drove a stake between segments of the working and unemployed poor, scapegoating those from other places for the high unemployment and long welfare rolls wracking the state.

In 1936, Police Chief Davis took matters into his own hands, enforcing an aggressive finger printing and deportation campaign for anyone arrested on vagrancy charges in Los Angeles. He also took the extraordinary measure of sending well over 100 officers to the borders of California and Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada. Officers set up blockades to question incoming travelers if they had money or work. If they didn’t, they were told to either go back to from where they came or face hard labor. Around the same time, California put an anti-Okie law on the books that made it a misdemeanor to bring an “indigent person” who wasn’t a resident into the state.

Such measures directed at “Okies” spurred John Steinbeck to write in The Grapes of Wrath, “Well, Okie use’ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you’re a dirty son of a bitch. Okie means you’re scum.” The Bum Blockade eventually failed because it was too expensive and the Supreme Court struck down California’s anti-Okie Law as a violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause.

Hailey Giczy writes, “In order to preserve the homogeneity of Los Angeles’ ‘imagined community’ of wealthy and culturally advanced Anglo-Saxons, tactics used to exclude racial groups were employed to attack class groups, raising exclusionary sentiment in Angelinos which fueled a fear of moral and aesthetic degradation.”

An Emphatic “No!”

Vestiges of the ugly laws, sundown towns, and Bum Blockade persist in our current Quality of Life ordinances. They create second-class citizenship, criminalize poverty and disability, close public space, and encourage vigilante justice. The media fear mongers and dehumanizes, business groups like the Chamber of Commerce demand the state protect their interests, and police overstep the constitutional limits of their power.

Throughout this sordid history, courageous people have stood up and declared an emphatic “no!” to policies that exclude, segregate, and deny universal human dignity. The concluding part of this series will highlight the work of those carrying on this tradition of resistance, those who today are demanding social justice.

This series is a collaboration between researcher Casey Gallagher and Western Regional Advocacy Project.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-boden/the-quality-of-whose-life_1_b_785714.html

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Drawing the Line
Dealing with Eugene’s Downtown Exclusion Zone

by Rick Levin

Exclusion is an ugly word. Applied to human beings and the public space they occupy, terms like “exclusion” and “sanitizing” and “cleaning up” can spark powerful historic images, none of them particularly nice: the Warsaw Ghetto, Kristallnacht, South African Apartheid, fire hoses opened up on Southern blacks and other such insidious experiments in cordoning off society’s so-called undesirables.

For the past two years and change, downtown Eugene has been boxed in by an imaginary but supposedly legal zone of exclusion. This zone has been dubbed — in somewhat Orwellian fashion — the Downtown Public Safety Zone (DPSZ). At the behest of law enforcement and to address the concerns of beleaguered establishments in Eugene’s business core, the City Council on Aug. 11, 2008, passed by a vote of 5-3 an ordinance that draws a line in the civic sand, and inside those lines the city has declared a sort of soft-soap War on Misbehavior in the umpteenth degree.

I spent some time hanging out in the zone with Obi James, a 31-year-old homeless guy who’s been selling his jewelry for the past few weeks in front of the McDonald Theatre. James told me he’s been cited for criminal trespass in the DPSZ. “I wasn’t criminally trespassing,” he said. “I was sleeping. It’s kind of ridiculous. My big thing is being discriminated against because of my position.”

The sun was scheduled to set on the zone Aug. 11 of this month, thereby repealing the code. But as any street kid knows, the sun also rises, sometimes unexpectedly. The council voted to extend the municipal code another 90 days in anticipation of the long-promised police report on the DPSZ’s effectiveness. The vote was 6-2 this time.

Beyond this, nobody knows precisely what the police report is supposed to show: Some want proof the cops aren’t profiling certain street kids; others want to know if the zone has benefited businesses. How this is to be shown isn’t clear.

Historical hindsight tells us that when the shit really hits the fan, exclusion can lead to extermination. But don’t fly off the handle: Nobody’s suggesting Eugene will start gassing 16-year-old kids for sleeping on grates or jaywalking. We’re not talking about the rise of Brown shirts (we do have red hats) and midnight beatings; that would be ridiculous. It can’t happen here.

No doubt, there are times when downtown Eugene is no picnic. Downtowns are rough all over. Many people who oppose the DPSZ, and even some kids on the street, are willing to admit there are mean, crappy people hanging around. At night especially, with so few folks in the area on week nights, getting around can be a bit scary. And yet, Eugene’s crime rate remains relatively low. It is possible to acknowledge that downtown isn’t exactly Shangri-La without simultaneously scapegoating street kids and pushing for more police and harsher enforcement.

The question, it seems, is not whether the DPSZ is effective but whether it’s desirable. Is the creation of an exclusion zone really the way Eugene wants to make itself a more attractive, safe and economically vital place to be? Does the DPSZ promote civic understanding and economic growth, or does it simply reveal a desire to sanitize and whitewash the urban core in order to attract more middle-class money? Is there an ironic and perhaps hypocritical contradiction between Eugene’s vaunted liberal image and the exclusion of certain “undesirables,” many of whom are being pushed over the line without being convicted of a crime? Is this public policy just a pig in a poke, a means of appeasing jittery yuppies who can’t tolerate the gritty realities of an economically struggling city? For that matter, is the DPSZ even constitutional?

How exclusion works

As set out in Eugene Code 4.873, the Downtown Public Safety Zone is a 20-square-block area centered on the LTD station and bounded by 7th Avenue, Lawrence and Lincoln streets and 11th Avenue. The ordinance does not require a criminal conviction before the exclusion period is imposed. The alleged offenses that can get you kicked out of the DPSZ include property damage, intimidation, controlled substance violations, menacing, urinating or defecating in public and criminal trespass. A police officer claiming you violated any of these state or municipal codes can get you excluded for 90 days, and should you violate this three-month probationary period — barring certain things like consulting your lawyer or seeking medical help — you can get booted for a whole year. If you cross the line a third time, you might get tossed in jail.

One of the strange offshoots of the whole DPSZ issue is the “trespass letter of consent” that was passed around to businesses, requesting that owners and managers of downtown establishments sign a paper that designates “each and every police officer” as “my agent for the purpose of enforcing” certain of the city’s municipal codes regarding criminal trespass. Seeing as this is sort of what police are supposed to do anyhow, the letter has something nervously pre-nuptial about it — an arrangement that seems to legally pre-empt questions about why it is that cops get to decide who is and isn’t a legitimate customer.

Even stranger was the sudden appearance of that painted white box on the sidewalk near the bus station. The box runs from the southwest corner of 10th and Willamette past the LTD station, after which it doglegs at the corner of 10th and Olive near the Rosa Parks statue and continues halfway up Olive to the western entrance to the bus station. Written at intervals within the box in stenciled yellow letters are the words:

“Do Not Block Public Right of Way.”

For fans of unintentional irony, it should be noted that a person could stand on the bench next to Rosa Parks and, with a vigorous leap, land directly in the middle of a box limiting, the civil right to assemble in public.

If the box is a literal interpretation of the intent of the safety zone, it also seems a rather subjective and arbitrary one. In an email sent May 18 to Mayor Kitty Piercy and the Eugene City Council, City Manager Jon Ruiz refers to those “timely” white lines as the “Magic Box Project,” which he says addresses the concerns of pedestrians “forced to walk a gauntlet of aggressive panhandlers, out of control dogs, and other unpleasant behavior.” Ruiz asserts in the email that “large groups of 100 or more” sometimes block the sidewalk by the LTD station, and he goes on to note that the magical box “is a good example of our employees continually providing innovative solutions to problems, often at little cost.”

It’s unclear whether Ruiz’s assertions are based on reality. I’ve made numerous visits to the area in question and have never observed 100 people creating any kind of gauntlet (or gantlet for that matter), and I’m not even sure that many people and their “out of control” dogs could pack into such a small area.

The city manager claimed that “the City received 100 positive comments” about the magic box. Ruiz, however, fails to provide any names of those who offered positive comments, or whether he even checked that other comment mailbox marked “negative.”

In an email to Police Chief Pete Kerns, Piercy appears to take to task those who acted without the knowledge of the rest of the department or the approval of the mayor or the city council. Apparently, Sgt. Terry Fitzpatrick asked Ruiz if he could paint the box, and then he had a city employee go at it. “I had no idea the sidewalk writing was the result of downtown safety meetings or any upper management decisions,” the mayor writes, adding that she “never heard there was a review by the city attorney.”

Kerns did not return calls requesting an interview.

Walt Hunt, who owns New Odyssey juice bar at the corner of 10th and Willamette, called the box an “awkward” attempt to address the issue of people blocking the sidewalks downtown. Hunt said he’s been trying for years to take the “old school” route of fixing the problem by bringing people together to iron out their differences in person, to no avail. “We weren’t making any headway,” he said, adding that he’s not opposed to the box per se though he would have preferred “something more fun and not quite so weird.”

“Seriously, it was done from beginning to end in about 30 minutes,” Hunt said of the Magic Box Project. “It took longer for it to dry.”

Hunt said he supports the idea of the DPSZ so long as it’s used properly to deter dangerous or antisocial behavior. Having been involved in some intense and potentially violent confrontations with unruly customers, he said there are instances when certain people have burned up their chances and need to be dealt with. In this sense, he said he appreciates the DPSZ as an attempt “to create a way not to put somebody in jail.”

According to Hunt, his initial concern was that police not target or profile certain individuals. “This is not to be used against homeless people,” he said. “It’s not a witch hunt.” Hunt said he’s satisfied the DPSZ hasn’t been mishandled, noting that he believes there were fewer than 50 instances of people actually being excluded during the past two years. “That doesn’t seem like abuse,” he said.

Hunt, who also supports the recent 90-day extension of the DPSZ, said it’s unrealistic to oppose the zone on principle without a street-level understanding of what goes on downtown all day every day. “Some of the people in our community are very reactionary,” he said. “They’re not down here. Are business owners struggling? Yes. Are they blaming street kids? No.”

Principal Mary Leighton of the Network Charter School, a self-identified peace activist, also supports the Downtown Public Safety Zone. “It looks to me like it’s working,” she said, adding that people opposing the zone might be “nurturing an unhealthy skepticism” toward the current Eugene police force. As someone who deals at her school with otherwise good kids who “fall through the cracks,” Leighton said she’s found Eugene police have shown uncommon concern about the welfare of wayward youth.

“Our kids are the ones who hang around Eugene Station, much to my chagrin, but they don’t go inside those boxes,” Leighton said. “I can say that the police I run into every day downtown know their neighbors. I think they’re decent people. They spend a lot more time than they need to solve a problem.”

Leighton said she is well aware of both the troubled past of the EPD as well as the nasty connotations of social exclusion. “The theory of exclusion is horrible, but the practice is okay, I think,” she said. “We have to make sure that the safeguards currently in place result in the equitable exclusion of people the community properly don’t want in the concentrated section of downtown. If the data can’t tell us that, we should be kind of mad.

“Technically, due process is missing,” Leighton said about the fact that a mere citation can get you excluded from the zone. “But practically they have such a preponderance of evidence before they apply it, it’s not like they’re fragrantly strewing it about. They are, as far as I can tell, applying it very prudently.”

 

Country club versus constitutional rights

The issue of the DPSZ and due process, on the other hand, is one of the major reasons Eugene City Council member Betty Taylor voted against the ordinance in the first place, as well as nay-saying its extension. Taylor said that “one of the really bad things” about the safety zone is that “a number of people have been excluded before they’ve even gone to trial. I think if people are doing something wrong, then charge them with that.”

Taylor’s perspective on the matter is cosmopolitan, in that she believes “downtown’s the best place for all kinds of people,” and she goes on to make a distinction between downtown and residential real estate. “I don’t believe in excluding people, especially downtown,” Taylor said. “It’s the best place for people to be. If it was a neighborhood, it might be different. If they’re criminals, put them in jail.”

Neither does Taylor believe that any perceived upswing in the social or economic vitality of the downtown area should be directly linked to the creation of the DPSZ. “I know a lot of people think things have gotten better, but that’s like saying those people did all the bad things down there,” she said. “If they’re bad people, it might be better to have them down there where there’s more people to watch. If they’re bad people, I don’t think we want them gathering in the park.

“I just don’t think it’s the right way to do it,” Taylor said of the whole idea of an exclusion zone. “If we get more people downtown, it will just be local color.”

As a UO law student, Katy Ann Crosslin became interested in the social and legal implications while serving an internship at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, where CLDC executive director Lauren Regan assigned her the project of researching the issue. Crosslin argued against extending the DPSZ at the Aug. 11 City Council meeting, saying that the zone is “unconstitutional, ineffective at stopping crime and is being used to profile the homeless, mentally ill and diverse youth.”

In an interview last week, Crosslin said that “the only purpose of the exclusion zone is to comfort the wealthy business owners, so that they can feel like they live in a classy area with high property values.” She said that although the DPSZ was touted as a way to stop crime by creating an “intangible” border, the reality is that the zone has been used to “systematically remove people that commit any number of minor and vague offenses such as ‘disorderly conduct’ and ‘interfering with pedestrians.’” The business owners who pushed for implementing the zone, Crosslin said, made the argument that many of their customers were too afraid to enter the area due to the “offensive behavior” that takes place there.

“I have found this fear of downtown to be unwarranted unless people are referring to the homeless, mentally ill and diverse youth of Eugene to be ‘offensive,’” Crosslin said. It’s obvious why downtown has become a gathering place for people of all sorts, she said, pointing out that many disadvantaged people need access to things like the bus station, FOOD for Lane County and the public library.

There are plenty of better, more humane solutions to dealing with whatever problems downtown Eugene might be experiencing, Crosslin said. “I think that the police should enforce most of the laws that are listed in the list of offenses that one can get excluded for,” she said. “Police should utilize existing crime-stopping tools and dish out appropriate fines or punishments without completely throwing out our constitutional rights.”

Crosslin’s investigation into the uses and abuses of the DPSZ have led her to some pretty disconcerting conclusions about the city in general. “I think that Eugene has this reputation to the outside world that it is a unique city with people that live alternative lifestyles and have refreshing ideas and beliefs about society, acceptance and diversity,” she said. “I now feel like Eugene resides within its own Bible Belt” where “the ones that called the shots on this exclusion ordinance are not very accepting of diverse people or the U.S. Constitution.”

Crosslin noted that downtown is “not a country club for members only” but a public space. “Kids on the street are saying that cops have threatened them not to even set foot in the box at all or they will get a ticket,” she said. “But in public statements and interviews, the cops deny that they have told anyone not to set foot in the box.”

I spoke with dozens of street kids and heard a lot of these kinds of stories.

How the other half lives

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent time sitting on the sidewalk — which is criminal trespassing — talking with many of the people who hang out downtown smack in the middle of Jon Ruiz’s Magic Box Project. Over and over again, I heard stories about kids getting hassled by the man, about being told to move along before getting busted, about not stepping over the white line. If this is untrustworthy second-hand news, it’s also some pretty widespread second-hand news.

As I sat talking to a couple of guys outside the entrance to the McDonald Theatre one afternoon, a jacked-up hot rod laid a smoking patch of rubber as it squealed through the stop sign. I also witnessed numerous people driving and talking on cell phones at the same time. I also saw cops riding bikes on the sidewalk.

Neither of the first two potentially deadly offenses I mention can get you excluded from the Downtown Public Safety Zone unless you want to bundle those crimes under the vague catchall category of criminal trespass. On any given day, Eugene Municipal Court seems to be handling a lot of criminal trespassing charges, mostly against poor kids, and many of which lead to a reduced fine when the trespasser agrees to do time working on the city’s road crew.

Andy Pew, 23, like Obi James, has spent the last couple months stationed on the sidewalk outside McDonald Theatre, selling jewelry. Right now, Pew said he’s doing some couch surfing, though he balks at the term homeless. “Houseless, yes,” Pew said. “Homeless, no.”

Pew said he’s seen as many as 10 to 15 kids get cited for violations in a single day for things like criminal trespass and drug possession. His major beef, however, isn’t with the Eugene police, many of whom he said can be pretty cool. Pew, like many of the people I spoke with, reserved his criticism for those guys in the red hats and white shirts — the downtown guides employed by Downtown Eugene, Inc., an organization funded by the city and headed up by Chamber of Commerce president Dave Hauser (who did not return my call for an interview). The kids hanging out in the DPSZ have several nicknames for these guides, including “the red hats” or the “British” (as in, “the red hats are coming”) and, my favorite, “bloody tampons.”

“There’s not a lot of positivity about the red hats,” Pew said. “They like to talk like they have the authority to detain you and make you wait for the cops to show up. The red caps seem to be the worst of the worst, abusing authority they don’t even have.”

Pew said he’s seen the dudes in the red hats follow groups of kids around before they’ve even done anything wrong. And the ironic thing, Pew said, is that “the street kids are way better guides than they are,” often providing directions.

James said he’s seen the red hats “rolling around in the passenger seat of cop cars.” He said he wouldn’t have a problem with them if the guides treated everybody equally, but from what he’s seen, “they target the kids.”

James, who arrived in Eugene a few months back after traveling up the coast from Sacramento, said he understands the idea behind the ordinance as a means of dealing with certain dangerous or predatory people. What bothers him, he said, is that law enforcement seems to lump all homeless people into the same category, which makes it difficult for someone like him, who is trying to “come up” and improve his life in the down economy.

James said that, from what he’s seen, profiling is taking place regarding who is being targeted or cited in the safety zone, which in turn is creating an environment of stereotyping. For instance, James said that when he goes into a fast food restaurant and orders food, “They don’t ask me if I want my food for here or to go.”

The exclusion zone, James said, seems more than anything to be money driven, and an obvious gambit to sanitize downtown. “I think they are super ready to give tickets to kids to drive them out of town. It wastes money and time when they could be doing other things,” he added. James suggested that the city should issue temporary permits to street vendors for $10 or $15, as a way of helping them do the all-American thing of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Instead, as James’ friend Pew pointed out, “I’ve seen three cops roll up here at once to write somebody a $65 littering ticket.” And when cops are confronted with breaking city code by riding their bikes on the sidewalk, Pew claims he’s heard them respond several times: “We’re exempt.”

“You can’t argue with an officer,” James said. “All of a sudden, now you’re resisting arrest.” Nonetheless, he added, “there are a lot of really good cops here. It’s definitely a mix. It’s just a mentality of picking on someone. I really think they need to focus on the real problem.” As problems, he offered the lack of trash cans downtown and the paucity of public restrooms. James said it’s no mystery why people are being cited for pissing and pooping in alleys.

“I’m not going to shit in my pants,” James said. “These are the only pants I have.”

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Charlotte rejects anti-camping law

Measure was not a solution to issue of homelessness, critics say

By CHRIS GERBASI, Correspondent
Published: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20100714/ARTICLE/7141031/2055/NEWS

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – Following emotional pleas from the public to help Charlotte County’s homeless population, county commissioners narrowly rejected a proposed no-camping ordinance that critics said targeted the group.

The commission on Tuesday voted 3-2 against a ban on living or sleeping outdoors in a temporary shelter on public or private property without permission from the landowner. Commissioners Robert Skidmore, Richard Loftus and Adam Cummings voted against the ordinance; Commissioners Bob Starr and Tricia Duffy were in favor.

The proposal stemmed from complaints from residents and business owners about “vagrants” living in parks or near stores. Laws against street drinking and aggressive panhandling were previously passed this year.

About 15 people, some quoting from the Bible, the Constitution and the Statue of Liberty creed, addressed commissioners. Punta Gorda lawyer Michael Haymans and others questioned the proposed ordinance’s constitutionality. Some speakers said they were formerly homeless or work with the homeless. They said they fear the trend in the county to criminalize everyday activities of homeless people: sleeping, eating, sitting, begging.

“I’d like to see the trend in thinking change to something more positive,” said Angela Hogan, executive director of the county Homeless Coalition.

Several residents asked commissioners to find compassionate alternatives to help those most likely to be affected by the ordinance, the estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people living outdoors in the county. Suggestions included creating a tent city or new shelter on county property.

“I don’t understand why this commission is spending so much time looking at short-term punitive measures instead of short-term curative measures,” resident Michael Hirsh said.

Starr insisted that this is not a “homeless issue,” but rather about property rights and trespassing, and he had support from Duffy and just three residents who spoke.

Starr has said he wants to clear out all the unlawful campsites in the county as public health hazards. If he can get support from the board, he hopes to initiate a cleanup plan with the Public Works Department. He said there are an estimated 109 campsites, and the county has contacted most of the property owners, many of whom live out of state. He said about 70 percent of the respondents have granted permission to clean up the properties.

Skidmore said he favored such a cleanup, but argued that trespassing laws already exist to deal with illegal camping. He and Loftus questioned the costs involved with the ordinance for enforcement, prosecution and incarceration.

Cummings, who also voted against the drinking and panhandling ordinances, again said he was uncomfortable with treading on personal freedom.

“I oppose this ordinance because the intent behind it is unconstitutional,” he said.

County attorney Janette Knowlton said the language was based on a Sarasota city ordinance.

One provision would have given violators the chance to be taken to a shelter rather than be charged with the second-degree misdemeanor.

She said that if no bed space was available, the offender would be given a warning and not be arrested. But with typically few beds available at the coalition’s 53-bed shelter, Hogan said the ordinance would be “unenforceable.

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The word is that raids will begin on Monday, July 19th. Cops hunt down outside-sleeping people every night, but these raids will be broad-sweeping and perhaps more orchestrated.

These raids will violate the rights of the houseless people. There are no legal, free-of-charge places to sleep in Eureka (or Arcata), so there are no options for almost all people who have no shelter except to sleep where they can find a hidden piece of ground. Then ya gotta be able to protect yourself from the rain, wind, cold, dew.

This is not a new situation. But all too often, people who are housed dismiss the reality of the situation by simply saying, “Well, there are homeless shelters for them to go to.” That is completely INACCURATE.

All of us need to sleep. That is a NECESSITY. And even the crooked, ruled by the rich courts of the U.S. say that because none of us can go without sleep, it is more of a “significant evil” to deprive a person of sleep (as do the laws against sleeping on public property and the cops who wake people up) than to break a law that prohibits you from sleeping. When someone is punished for something- like sleep- which they cannot go without, it is (here’s the court again) “cruel and unusual punishment.” I would also call it discrimination. And the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, among other things completely defied by policies throughout the U.S. :

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and
well-being of oneself and of one’s family, including food, clothing,
housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to
security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood,
old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond one’s control.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 25, Section (1)

So, if you’re a person who still needs to see something in the “law books” to really believe it’s legitimate, there is plenty to support that people have a right to sleep, even when they don’t pay rent somewhere. And if there are no available options besides a small piece of Earth (or a doorway, or a dumpster or a person’s own vehicle), people are to be left alone.

These raids of sleeping people violate a bunch of human and Constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, etc. When cops (or John Shelter in Eureka or John Cassali in SoHum) steal and/or destroy peoples’ property, it doesn’t matter what they want to call it- “cleaning up”, “helping out”, “warning” -it is illegal. It is stealing. It’s cruel. It ain’t right.

Another thing that happens during these raids (and any random night): When the cops approach someone sleeping (how scary, huh?), they not only wake the person up (say 3:30am, flashlight in the eyes, hand on the gunbelt), but they often physically hurt the person. Cops slash tents, kick people in the ribs, threaten people with guns, pull folks out of their vehicles, grab people’s arms so hard they bruise, bang on windows, tow away someone’s only private space… It IS really that bad.

Every Saturday there are PEOPLE PROJECT meetings at PARC [Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community] at 1:30pm. These are spaces where we can figure out how we will fight this painful and ongoing injustice.

Please contact PEOPLE PROJECT if you want to do something about this upcoming raid situation. (707) 442-7465

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http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/03/20/18642123.php

Homeless Frame-Up by Cops and City Attorney Defeated in Rare Court Victory
by Robert Norse

Saturday Mar 20th, 2010 4:59 PM

The City’s “Go to Sleep; Go to Jail” campaign suffered a rare setback with two “Not Guilty” verdicts after a four-hour contempt hearing for Anna Richardson and Miguel deLeon on Friday, March 19th. Judge Timothy Volkman returned to the plain language of MC 6.36.010c which makes sleeping, even on blankets, even with your possessions around you, a legal activity during the day if you have no intention of remaining overnight and haven’t “set up a campsite”, no matter how much that infuriates police officers who want you to move along.

BREAKFASTING WITH THE BIRDS

The day began outside the main entrance of the courthouse at 8:15 AM with a free breakfast provided by Joe Schultz, soon to open a new restaurant downtown on Front St. Schultz has long been a supporter of homeless protest actions in Santa Cruz, a rare exception to the cowed, indifferent, or hostile response of many merchants downtown.

The Downtown Association, whose former executive director Peter Eberle, voted to end the entire Camping Ban in 1999 when he was on the Homeless Issues Task Force has since refused to even discuss modifying the Sleeping Ban sections of the camping ordinance under the leadership of its new director, “Chip”.

Over a dozen homeless people munched coffeecake, sipped coffee,and spoke out about their experiences outside. Curbhugger Chris Doyen passionately denounced the existing laws that target homeless survival behavior like sleeping and sitting in public places. Congressional Candidate and Attorney Ed Frey (pronounced “fry”) described his appeal of the case of Robert “Blindbear” Facer on the grounds that waking people up is torture and requiring people to wake up, get ticketed, move, and get a letter asserting what everyone knows–that there’s no shelter–is cruel & unusual punishment.

Anna Richardson’s pro bono Jonathan Gettleman, decked out in a dark court-friendly suit, said his main focus today would be keeping his clients out of jail. “Compassion, not more punishment” is required, Gettleman noted, adding “everyone knows the shelters are wholly inadequate. People don’t want to be treated like they’re in prison just cause they want to sleep…”

JUDGE VOLKMAN’S INITIAL POSITION

Initially things didn’t look too good. Attorneys Mark Briscoe and Jonathan Gettleman sitting alongside defendant Miguel deLeon faced City Attorney John Barisone. Judge Volkman dismissed all of the defense’s concerns about the May 2009 Injunction itself being improper, the minute order served not matching Barisone’s final language, and Barisone’s affidavit being incomplete. The complaints were police reports and citations from three officers, one of whom, Officer Martin, was on vacation.

Barisone decided (ill advisedly as it turned out) to proceed with the case without Officer Martin, who was apparently 50% of his case. The one point the Gettleman/Briscoe defense team won was a ruling from the judge that “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” was the standard the City Attorney had to meet, since the penalty involved possible jail time and was hence ‘quasi-criminal”. Some thought the reason Barisone was using a Civil Injunction was to evade the need for a real trial with a high standard of proof and more protections for the defendants.

Barisone also chose not to use the “three infractions ignored makes a misdemeanor” law which he and City Council added to the city code in January 2009 over the objections of homeless advocates. Did this mean that the two homeless musicians had either dealt with all their citations, or hadn’t gotten three since May 2009? Or was Barisone simply using a procedure with less protection for the defendants (a civil Injunction that seems to circumvent the need for a jury trial, is not susceptible of appeal, and provides for no appointed public defender)?

The “case” for contempt itself involved four incidents of police contact between the two and Officers Winston, Forbus, and Martin. The issue wasn’t sleeping at night or sleeping at all, even though the cops woke them up, prompting their anger. The issue was “setting up a campsite with the intention of remaining overnight” downtown in the “forbidden zone” created by Barisone and ratified by Judge Burdick in May (http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_12483386?IADID=Search-www.santacruzsentinel.com-www.santacruzsentinel.com).

Three witnesses testified–Officers Forbus and Winston and homeless expert Linda Lemaster. Forbus and Winston are downtown beat officers under the jurisdiction of Sgts. Harms and Garner, to whom they reportedly pass on reports of all contacts with the two targeted homeless musicians. Lemaster previously served the city as Chair of the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and of the Homeless Issues Task Force. She is currently on the County’s Homeless Action Partnership.

THE ISSUES AND LINDA LEMASTER’S TESTIMONY

The key legal issues under scrutiny were (1) what determines whether a person as “set up a campsite” and (2) what is the standard for proving they had “an intention to remain overnight”.
Both connditiosn are required to cite and convict someone during the day under MC 6.36.010c. At night just sleeping or covering up with blankets after 11 PM is itself illegal on all public property, on much private property, in any structure that isn’t a house or hotel, and in any vehicle parked on public property. A third was whether the presence of homeless possessions next to an individual sitting, lying, or sleeping was itself significant or sufficient evidence of a campsite and an intention to remain overnight.

Lemaster testified there was a waiting list for storage lockers at the Homeless Services Center and insisted that commercial storage lockers are out of reach for anyone without a stable income. She talked about her own difficult experiences when a homeless mom. Barisone vigorously cross-examined her, suggesting that lockers were available for storing homeless property without even hinting at any evidence. He volunteered that homeless failure to apply for shelter and services indicates a conscious scofflaw mentality and not a function of the wearisome homeless treadmill. Finally he ignored the well-known and unchanging lack of shelter space and services. “Many homeless people stop trying,” said Lemaster. “They are pressured over time to give up on waiting lists and application hurdles in order to stay focused on immediate survival needs.”

Lemaster subsequently claimed that numbers of local homeless people exceed access to even momentary public aid by a facto of more than 15-1. “Homelessness,” she noted, “is a growing epidemic that will not be resolved by municipalities.” “It is profoundly immoral to simply pluck out the most egregious presences on Pacific Avenue, while ignoring the forces that destroy everyone else outside until they get sick or angry or messy or die.”

Last year’s county homeless death figure was nearly three times that of the prior year (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/12/19/18633184.php?show_comments=1#18633349).

Not discussed at all were the difficulties involved even when Armory shelter space is available. Shelter space is never available in the late spring, summer, and early fall for 95% of the chronically homeless who apply, according to Lemaster. Requirements include: Show up early and so miss work opportunities; Face what some call unhealthful conditions sleeping in a room on the floor with many coughing and sick people; Show picture ID; Deal with what some have described as discriminatory treatment by ill-paid staff and Armory personnel; Abandon most of one’s property during the night; Accept sexually segregated sleeping conditions; etc.
etc.

BAD SENTINEL REPORTING

Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown sat through the proceedings and wrote a heavily merchant-friendly story. It mostly ignored the deeper legal issues and repeated deceptive and incomplete descriptions from prior stories. J.M. Brown cast the two defendants in a bad light, highlighting merchant fears and unproven allegations. (See “Judge dismisses some charges in preliminary injunction against S.C. couple accused of violating city’s camping ban” at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_14711762?source=rss).

Brown nowhere mentioned the costs of the proceeding nor indicated the bizarre nature of the patently fraudulent charges (even under the abusive wording of the Injunction covering downtown sleeping and the absurd Sleeping Ban making it illegal everywhere else). Apparently he didn’t think to ask the City Attorney: “Why would you think that two people sleeping at midday with their possessions downtown constituted a campsite?” “How could that possibly mesh with the wording of the law and the Injunction?” “Why would you spend city time and money and waste the court’s time with this?”

Reporter Brown repeated the unproven, irrelevant, and inflammatory charges of “bathing in a fountain”, “destroying trees” , “trespassing” and other claims rejected in the May Injunction hearing, Those smears were not permitted in this contempt hearing which was specifically held to determine only whether the two were violating the Camping Ordinance in the forbidden Downtown zone–the only behavior the Injunction bans, and the only “crimes” alleged.

It was not proven at the May 2009 hearing that created the original injunction that Richardson and DeLeon were a Public Nuisance, simply that they were regularly charged (but not convicted) of violating the unconstitutional Sleeping Ban. This alone was the grounds for labeling them a “nuisance per se”, not any substantial nuisance behavior. Thus was created this unique Injunction which bans an essential human function–sleeping, and set the two up as police targets. Not because their behavior specifically injured anyone, but because nighttime homeless sleeping is and has been illegal in Santa Cruz since 1978.

Brown used [phrases like “vagrancy”–an outdated and prejudicial epithet which criminalizes poor people outside for their status). “Years of negative public perception about safety issues” echoes a paranoid merchant perception–but the two are not charged with any violent crimes. Brown quotes Mayor Rotkin at length, who as usual talks out of both sides of his mouth–professing compassion for the homeless, but supporting the Sleeping Ban–which makes homeless people criminals for a life-sustaining act. All that De Leon and Richardson were charged with was sleeping during the day. Iinstead of grilling Rotkin on where homeless people can park their bones or researching the shelter realities, Brown simply mouths authority propaganda.

Misleading and sloppy reporting includes such comments as “limitations on loitering”. There is no such crime; City Council under pressure from gentrification advocates and merchants intent on blaming homeless people for the economic depression has made more than 95% of the city’s sidewalks in business districts a crime to sit on, and peacefully spare change on. A huge expanse has also been made forbidden territory for political tabling or busqueing.

MY RESPONSE TO THE SENTINEL STORY ON THEIR WEBSITE

I wrote the following commentary in response to Brown’s Sentinel article which covers some more points (somewhat modified in this reprinting):

City Attorney Barisone’s arrogance strikes again. As with another recent case where he’s wasted over $100,000 of the City’s money (and intends to waste more), this one was a really bad call.(See http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci… )

Anna and Miguel were sleeping downtown during the day–an activity not forbidden by Burdick’s injunction. But when harassed by Officers Forbus and Winston, they refused to move (as was their right since they were doing nothing illegal). So maybe the two officers, out of resentment that their heavy-handed authority was being properly and caustically challenged, wrote phony tickets without probable cause to further intimidate the two.

The tickets “worked” in that the two defendants gathered together their possessions and left. They also provided grist for Sgt. Garner and Barisone’s stalking agenda: holding the two in contempt and jailing them.

However, sleeping during the day is not “setting up a campsite” and even a judge nervous about offending the merchants and politicians knows that. It may show the depth of Barisone’s arrogance (or perhaps his indifference–after all, he gets paid regardless) that he proceeded to drag these two into court on what were obviously false charges.

Further aggravating the situation for those of watching the trial was the fact that apparently the cops did not say they’d gotten any specific complaints about the two sleepers. It was just two thugs in uniform showing their power or currying favor with the city attorney–at what may ultimately be a significant cost to the city.

Exerting naked power against people–even poor people–can piss them off, especially when it’s illegal.

Volkman had no choice but to find the accused not guilty of contempt. Barisone should have known that from the getgo. Barisone and his two cop witnesses should be held liable for harassment as well as misuse of public funds.

Even those whose agenda is characterizing visible homeless people sparechanging downtown as “bums” should get together to dump these incompetents.

Ironically sleeping during the day is the only legal option for all homeless people in Santa Cruz since sleeping at night is banned under MC 6.36.010a.

So Anna and Miguel sleeping at 1:40 PM and 5:20 PM in the afternoon were actually trying to follow the law.

Present in the audience watching this farce were Mayor Rotkin, Councilmember Robinson, Julie Hende, and no doubt a number of other notable bigoted bureaucrats. Boy, bigotry is bad, but stupidity when mixed with bigotry is even more ludicrous. And making a public spectacle out of this makes them all a laughingstock. Which, given the abuse they’re trying to bring to homeless people, is what they deserve.

For more background go to http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/03/15/1… and http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/03/18/1… .

Those interested in real solutions should consider how much cheaper it would be to set up a campground and acknowledge the clear and present reality the immense shelter deficiency in Santa Cruz puts the City in very vulnerable spot legally and wretched position ethically.

TIME FOR ANOTHER KIND OF INJUNCTION?

The one positive thing to come out of this case (other than exposing the incompetence and/or corruption of the police and city attorney) is the revelation that police are now (perhaps under instruction from their supervisors) misusing section c of the camping ordinance–which says folks can be ticketed anytime if they’re “setting up a campsite with the intent of remaining overnight”.

This means there is no “safety zone” as Vice-Mayor Coonerty insisted several years ago, that allows homeless people to sleep during the day and so makes our city different from Los Angeles, San Diego, Laguna Beach, and other places that have had courts overturn their Sleeping Bans.

It may be time to go back to court with a lawsuit–and this time the Injunction will be against the City and the Police, and not against homeless sleepers.

COMING UP SOON: SINISTER SONGSTER CITATION TRIALS

Two homeless activists, a homeless musician, and an innocent passerby were falsely given $445 citations last January for singing political songs in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz. Officer Shoenfeld refused to say herself whether the singing she heard at 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, was “unreasonably disturbing”. Because the singers refused to move, but did agree to sing more quietly (and stopped singing at Shoenfeld’s request), Sheofeld apparently orchestrated the citizen’s arrest from a resident of the St. George—Simon Reilly by falsely informing Reilly that the singers refused to sing more quietly.

Some of the story is told at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/01/20/18635743.php (“Sinister Street Singers Cited on Sidewalk”).

On March 25th at 1:30 PM in Dept. 10 (the basement of the County Building) the innocent bystander, a teacher named Michelle, will go to trial in the court of Commissioner Kim Baskett.

On March 26th at 10 AM, activist Becky Johnson will go to trial in Dept. 1 (first courtroom to your left as you pass the metal detector) in front of Judge Symons.

On April 27th, Robert “Blindbear” Facer is due to go to trial at 1:30 p.m. Dept. 10.

HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship &; Freedom) will likely be sponsoring an outdoor meal to encourage the community to have a bite to eat and then witness the proceedings in the hopes that these ridiculous charges will be dismissed, encouraging the police not to use citizens as catspaws.

Judge Volkman at the Injunction Contempt Hearing commended the audience for coming and the presence of the audience may have had a positive effect in helping him hold the line against a lawless city attorney whose main concern seems to be running disfavored homeless people out of town or out of sight.

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