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in English w/ Spanish subtitles
See this before they take it off the air!

PASS THIS ON!

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By Paul Boden Organizing Director, Western Regional Advocacy Project

What images do the words “quality of life” bring to mind? A peaceful beach? A beautiful park? A farmers market full of healthy produce? In the realm of policing, the phrase “quality of life” carries different connotations. It means a veteran getting hauled in for sleeping on the sidewalk, a homeless woman being prohibited from resting on a park bench, or even brutal scenes like these from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Fresno.

For poor, homeless, queer, transgendered, and disabled people, “quality of life” is a zero-sum game. It means someone else’s life is better only if theirs is worse. It also means no begging, no sitting or lying on public benches or sidewalks, no congregating in public space, and no sleeping outside. In this context, “quality of life” is an array of ordinances being used against people deemed “abnormal” or “undesirable,” especially in gentrifying areas. Quality of Life campaigns have been driven by the concerns of Chambers of Commerce, Business Improvement Districts, and residents uncomfortable with the unsightliness of extreme poverty, especially middle-to-upper class whites.

The heavy-handed tactics shown in the video clips above are extreme expressions of the daily harassment visited upon those who have to struggle with poverty, addiction, mental illness, and disabilities in open public view because they lack basic amenities such as housing. These tactics help the police clearly demarcate urban boundaries and enforce who belongs where. They’re part of a social system where welfare and punishment have become almost indistinguishable.

This is the second part in a series of articles we’re running on Quality of Life campaigns. Here we explore their theoretical basis, what they actually do, and what their implications are for our society.

Quality of Life laws are based on the Broken Windows theory, first popularized in an influential 1982 Atlantic Monthly article written by James Q. Wilson and Edward Kelling. The article reflected the ascendant conservative ideology that New Deal and Great Society programs had turned the U.S. into a “nanny state” that reinforced the laziness and criminality of the lower classes, especially people of color. This is the theory’s dubious starting point.

The premise of the Broken Windows argument is simple: it is necessary to come down hard on the “disorderly” (e.g. homeless panhandlers, drunks, prostitutes, and rowdy youth) to discourage more serious criminals from taking over a neighborhood. This was to be done by saturating selected areas with beat cops that have the “discretionary authority” to not only respond to actual crimes, but to “manage street life.” These tactics go by the various names of zero tolerance, order maintenance, and broken windows policing.

Wilson and Kelling write:

“The unchecked panhandler is, in effect, the first broken window. Muggers and robbers, whether opportunistic or professional, believe they reduce their chances of being caught or even identified if they operate on streets where potential victims are already intimidated by prevailing conditions.”

“Tough on Crime” advocates saw Broken Windows as a panacea to the problems facing their cities. The cumulative effects of economic stagnation, growing inequality, unemployment, rampant privatization, and government neglect were ravaging urban centers. The first to apply it were New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his Police Commissioner William Bratton. In 1994, they put forward Police Strategy No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York. Giuliani and Bratton made their careers off exporting this model. Giuliani created a consulting company and Bratton took jobs in other major cities such as Los Angeles.

In recent years, activities associated with being homeless became the most glaring signs of disorder that needed to be eliminated, and as a result the problems faced by homeless people were transformed into a criminal justice issue. Today, more than 50 cities have passed laws that prohibit sitting or lying down in public places and 100 localities have passed some form of anti-begging ordinance. To bolster Quality of Life policing efforts, Business Improvement Districts have hired private security guards to monitor and patrol public space with scant oversight to limit civil rights violations.

Consequently, public funds are being redirected from social services to homeless courts, jails, and prisons. So much so that in 2007, a public defender in Los Angeles told the Daily Journal on the condition of anonymity: “It’s not abnormal for the DA to have a policy. But this policy is about targeting the homeless in that area because the city is redeveloping that area. It’s a policy to get people off the streets and into state prison, jumping right over rehab and jail.”

Quality of Life campaigns have been credited for cleaning up and making business, entertainment, and shopping districts more enjoyable for their intended users, namely tourists, shoppers, and concertgoers. In New York City, for example, the campaign was so successful that only one homeless man remains in Times Square, but at the same time homelessness in the city was up 34%.

So the question must be asked: Do these ordinances actually work or are they “politically successful policy failures?” Who exactly do they work for and at what cost for society as a whole? Do the ends justify the means? Or are we once again developing a repertoire of exclusionary mechanisms that further tarnish our country’s claims on freedom, equality, and justice for all?

There is no clear evidence that Quality of Life campaigns have seriously reduced crime. In his book Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt calls attention to a Harvard study in which the authors conclude that “the current fascination in policy circles on cleaning up disorder through law enforcement techniques appears simplistic and largely misplaced, at least in terms of directly fighting crime.”

In the pursuit of “safe,” “sanitized,” and “livable” cities, we’re systematically stripping people of basic civil and human rights and banishing them beyond the realm of human decency. By reactivating or expanding the application of archaic vagrancy laws, we’re criminalizing the basic necessities of living and keeping in existence a disgraceful system of second-class citizenship. Nightsticks and jail time cannot address the lack of housing and services that put millions of people on the streets in the first place.

Even Wilson and Kelling concede that:

“Of course, agencies other than the police could attend to the problems posed by drunks or the mentally ill, but in most communities especially where the ‘deinstitutionalization’ movement has been strong — they do not.”

They go on to raise concerns about equity:

“How do we ensure that age or skin color or national origin or harmless mannerisms will not also become the basis for distinguishing the undesirable from the desirable? How do we ensure, in short, that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?…We are not confident that there is a satisfactory answer except to hope that by their selection, training, and supervision, the police will be inculcated with a clear sense of the outer limit of their discretionary authority. That limit, roughly, is this — the police exist to help regulate behavior, not to maintain the racial or ethnic purity of a neighborhood.”

So, why have police become our society’s primary service providers? Aren’t other agencies better trained to deal with health, social, and economic problems? In the next part of this series we will take a look at the “long and unbecoming” history of other exclusionary social policies carried out in the name of “regulating behavior.” Histories that should make us think twice about the police’s ability to provide safety for everyone. We hope that looking at Ugly laws, anti-Okie laws, and Jim Crow laws will give us the distance and perspective we need to illumine our own blind spots and democratic failings. The fact of the matter is, we can only police the gross inequality riveting our society for so long.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-boden/whose-quality-of-life-par_b_769036.htmlOctober 22, 2010 

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

Follow Paul Boden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@withouthousing

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REPORTS from only three days!

May 6, 2010

This morning I was wakened from sleep at around 7 in the morning by four men in uniform, led by Sgt. Swithenbank.

I was sleeping under the Bear Gulch bridge.

They told me they were having complaints about “you people”.

I said I wasn’t “you people” but they said yes I was.

They gave me a white paper notice of trespass warning with the County of Humboldt and Swithenbank’s name on it.

They said I would be arrested if they found me sleeping anywhere.

They photographed me with a board with my name, first and last, and something else written on it. I objected briefly before being photographed but one officer pulled out his handcuffs and said “I’ve been waiting to use these”.

I then let them take my photograph.

I wear glasses, I was not able to see the officer’s names. I know Swithenbank by sight; the others I think are new to our area.

I think referring to anyone as “you people” is stereotyping or profiling.

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At about May 6, 2010 at about 7:30AM I was sleeping in my tent on the ridge north of Redway and I heard “you in the tent, come out”. I asked if I could put on my pants; he said no, come on out. I had long johns on so I stepped out.

I was surrounded by 8 officers, including a female.

The female was blonde and tall. The guy making demands was dark haired with a mustache and a chiseled, hawk like face. I did not get the names of the officers.

They asked what brought me to Humboldt County. I said “camping”. They said you’ve been camping for a while and I said I’d been ripped off by 3 companies and decided to live different.

They said I was trespassing on private property and asked me to produce my ID. I did. I had glass beer bottles containing water in my tent; I use glass bottles because they are safer and chemicals don’t leach into my water. They said “you’ve got your 40” and I told them it was water. Are you sure you aren’t making moonshine he asked. I was reaching in to get one of my water bottles and he yelled “hey, get out of there, you might have a gun”

I said “no, no, nothing like that”.

He said “Stand up, we’re gonna take your picture” They put a board with my name in front of me. One of the officers made a joke about my morning hair looking like a rooster and another officer said it was the best photo of the morning.

They gave me a white piece of paper and told me “If you’re here again it will be a fine. You have an hour to get out of here”. I told them it might take a little while longer.

They tazed someone the other day. I didn’t want to provoke them, there were 8 of them, and one of me and I was alone in the woods.

——————————-

From an Iraq veteran.

On May 6, 2010, yesterday, about 0700 me and my girl were already awake after staying up all night watching shooting stars on the hill a little north of Garberville. Swithenbank and his officers came out and gave us papers and teased us about being a couple. We had no garbage there, nothing, the camp was clean. There were 4 or 6 officers and animal control, they seem to want to just take the things homeless people have, and their dogs, and everything.

They ran our names to see if we had warrants. I don’t understand why they took my picture.

I’ve been cleaning up this town for years; they need to stop harassing us. I have a fiancé, I’m trying to keep things together.

They said we can’t camp down by the river either. They didn’t tell us where we could go.

I grew up around here and Redding, I was part of a homeschooled family. My grandpa died and I was left homeless.

I’m trying to start my life again.

Two years ago I got laid off 9 times; I was doing jobs I never did before, like welding.

—————–
from Vietnam era vet:

On May 6, 2010 at about 10AM I was sitting in my chair drinking a cup of coffee, enjoying the quiet morning. My cat alerted me that intruders were coming. Four deputies walked up into my camp. I saw them first, I said “good morning, how’s it going”. They asked if I had any ID. We don’t know if you are America’s top ten wanted, please have a seat (on the poison oak). They ran my name and told me I was camping illegally on private property and told me I was being issued a trespassing/littering notice. And that I should leave as soon as possible.

I told Swithenbank it would take me at least 24 hours to get things together (which I did, but I have to go back to get my cat).

They took my picture with a board in front of me with my name, as if I were a criminal.

They said they would come back and would be checking. If I were still here they would “have to take appropriate action”

One cop asked if I was on drugs like heroin or meth. I said no.
——————————————

9 Contacts from the raids on the homeless in SoHum
May 6, 2010 from 7AM till around 1PM

-Man at Bear Creek Gulch (just north of Garberville) contacted by cops with Sgt Swithenbank. Cops took picture, issued warning. Land owner Humboldt County (aka public property)

-Man at Redwood Drive by Bear Creek Bridge contacted by cops w/Swithenbank. Took picture, issued warning. Land owner Humboldt County(aka public property).

-Man Contacted by cops under Bear Creek Bridge, took picture. He’s from out of state: Swithenbank told him “to leave Humboldt county and if they come back he would go to jail”

-Young man contacted by cops at Bear Gulch. Cops took picture. Gave warning.

-Young man contacted by cops. Took picture, gave written warning.

-Man contacted by cops. Cops took picture, given warning.

-Woman contacted by cops at 10:45 AM. Cops took picture, gave warning. Contact was behind Blue Star Gas
(north of Garberville, near the freeway). Cited for no rabies tag on dog. Officer C. Nikolaus #99704. Cops were very rude.

-Young man contacted by cops behind Blue Star Gas. Cops took picture, issued warning.

-Man contacted by cops at Raven’s Cliff (Redway, above the river). Cops took picture, issued warning.
————————————————————–
Woman who was born in this area. Her boyfriend used to work for John Casali.

On Friday May 7, 2010 early in the morning around 6:30 we were in our tent about a quarter mile out of town (Redway). Police approached us and told us to get out of the tent. We did. They asked for our ID’s and our names. They said “We’re taking your pictures” and they wrote our names and dates of birth on paper on a clipboard and held it in front of us and took pictures. They did not ask our permission to take photographs of us.

They gave us a paper saying we were trespassing and that we should move immediately. They cited me for having a dog without a rabies tag even though I had mailed in my papers to get the tag.

We moved down to the other side of the road, to the bridge near Dean Creek.

Hamilton came by on Saturday, gave us till 9 AM Sunday to move and told us he was arresting us, but releasing us at the scene. Tresspassing and littering is what it says on the ticket, although we were not at the same location as we had been and were not littering.

Hamilton came on Sunday and gave us till 1 PM to move.

I get my food stamps here, and counseling, I was in a house
in Myers Flat for 4 years but now I am in a tent. I have no place else to go. I was born in Humboldt County. I feel I am being pushed from my home. I have Cherokee in me.

We keep our camps clean.
—————–
Ticket issued today, May 8, 2010 by Sheriff Deputy Hamilton for trespassing and littering. However, the circumstances were that the guy returned to the river bank with a few friends to have lunch there. There is a firepit; they were heating their lunch. They informed Hamilton they were just there for lunch, not to stay, but he said they’d been warned.

—–
more from May 8, 2010:

1) Man contacted by cops. Picture taken, warning given. He was on Public Land

2) Woman contacted by cops on public land. Picture taken.
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