The Bum on the 9th Floor


root - Posted on 31 December 1969

by Tony Robles/PNN

“Rights don’t protect themselves…it’s up to people to protect them”

--San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi

The financial district is depressing, too many people with overblown evaluations of themselves. I worked down there for close to 10 years. It was like a sort of zombie movie. The senses become deadened. Too many desks and florescent lights wilting the flowers. Years before, my father told me to get a desk job. “Don’t be a bum” he said. I ended up behind a desk at an insurance brokerage after a short stint as a janitor in the house of the lord (Presbyterian type).

But something was wrong. Life was happening outside and I was inside on the phone moving term life policies. I went down the elevator and walked out of that building located at 595 Market Street at the corner of 2nd street. I saw the pigeons, the suits, ties, bike messengers, shoe shiners. I saw my reflection in a tinted glass window concealing the inner workings of something. I crossed the street.

I saw her. She sat next to a shopping cart filled with contents that told the partial story of her life. I looked at her clothes; each stitch a story, connected to another story, a movement from point A to B and all points in between—the navigational distance between stars which dissolve into memories. Who knows the stories? Who would ask? I walked past her heading to a place I have long since forgotten.

That was nearly 10 years ago. The elder is still there, sitting on land that so long ago was stripped of its sacredness by the colonizer’s legacy—corporate greed and gentrification. She sits quietly in front of 605 Market.

“I was born here” she says, her voice barely audible. Ms. Patterson has resided on the street in front of 605 Market Street for over 2 decades after being evicted from her home. Being born in San Francisco is a curse. It affords you no equity. If you are black and an elder, it is like you were never here.

The Men’s Wearhouse, which occupies the storefront at 605 Market, got an injuction against Ms. Patterson with the help of attorney Michael Hall who occupies an office on the 9th floor. As Ms. Patterson sat near the curb, clearly not impeding the flow of pedestrian traffic, class act attorney Hall yelled at her. “You are blocking the sidewalk. You are a bum and just cause trash. He shouted and took pictures. He then filed a stay away order based on erroneous charges of the threat of violence.

The incident was witnessed by POOR Magazine editor Lisa Gray-Garcia, AKA Tiny. Tiny worked on the 13th floor at 605 Market for an organization called, “Justice Matters”. Tiny mentioned the incident to the executive director and suggested that they speak to management about Mr. Hall’s harassment of a landless elder. In typical non-profit industrial complex fashion, Tiny was informed that Justice Matters was trying to maintain a good relationship with building management and would not involve itself in the incident. Typical Tiny, she didn’t acquiesce. The good folks working in the building maintenance department informed Tiny that the police had been called to enforce the stay away order on Ms. Patterson. SFPD officer Chiu arrived. He knew Ms. Patterson, had seen her for years. He refused to remove her. “I’m not going to do anything about Ms. Patterson” he said. “I have known her for many years and she has never hurt anybody”. A second call was made to the PD. The second officer wisely noted that the order mandated that Ms. Patterson stay 50 yards away from attorney Hall. Since Mr. Hall was on the 9th floor, Ms. Patterson was ample distance away from him.

A 3rd call to the Police prompted her removal from her sacred area at 605 Market by 4 officers based on attorney Hall’s false claim that Ms. Patterson had threatened him with a weapon on the day he took pictures of her.

When Tiny became aware of the situation, she called Bob Offer-Westort of the Coalition on Homelessness, a tireless warrior for the landless and criminalized. He procured the services of Sarah Barnes of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. “Ms. Patterson, we are going to win this case, I promise”, said Tiny to the crouched figure of Ms. Patterson in the doorway of a closed liquor store. Her eyes told her story: I was born here.

On July 1st I accompanied POOR Magazine family members Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, Ruyata McGlothin (AKA Ram) to the court hearing on McAllister St. regarding Ms. Patterson’s stay away order. If you want to know what hegemony is, take a walk through security at that courthouse. Cadets from the sheriff’s department, mere boys with tin badges and tin attitudes. It’s sad.

After a number of cases, Ms. Patterson’s was finally heard. Attorney Hall presented his case. He showed pictures of Ms. Patterson (snapped without the courtesy of obtaining Ms. Patterson’s consent), portraying her as blight on an otherwise functional street. He presented Ms. Patterson as a stereotype—the large and threatening black female. He described her as being over 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing over 260 pounds and possessing a loud voice. He explained that Ms. Patterson has a tendency to take recyclable material and use it as sleeping material, abandoning it after use. He said that while she didn’t cause graffiti, she has a tendency to attract it. He concluded by quoting Ms. Patterson as saying, “There’s no place for me to go…if I go, I’m going to take you with me”.

I sat at the rear of the courtroom. The judge looked annoyed. He knew attorney Hall was playing kids games, bullshitting. “Can we hear from Ms. Patterson’s attorney” he said. After explaining Ms. Patterson’s absence from the proceedings (an elder with physical and mental disabilities) Sarah asked Tiny to describe Ms. Patterson. Tiny described her as “short…shorter than me, with a voice that is barely audible”. Tiny added that Ms. Patterson appears larger than she actually is due to the many layers of clothing she wears. Sarah asked Tiny to recount the day of the alleged threat to attorney Hall. Tiny indicated that Ms. Patterson had not uttered a threatening word to anyone; that the only thing she could be accused of was living without a home in one of the richest cities in the world. It was Mr. Hall that had harassed her by taking pictures without Ms. Patterson’s consent and continuing his long history of harassment on a landless African descended elder.

The judge’s face was impassive. “I understand how this situation can be frustrating for you, Mr. Hall, but I am going to decline this stay away order as I find there is no credible threat of violence. The judge dismissed the case. Tiny, attorney Barnes, Ruyata and myself headed out into the sunlight of McAllister Street. We’d won. Sarah said that they usually lose cases like these. We walked towards Van Ness. I thought about attorney Michael Hall and his creased suit and face, wasting people’s time. I thought about my father’s words: Don’t be a bum. Attorney Hall, you have more than achieved that. Ms. Patterson knew it all along.

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