Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down!

Tiny - Posted on 21 March 2011

Marlon Crump/PNN

Editors Note: On Tuesday, April 26th over 200 people protested the Criminalization of Public Space in the streets of Berkeley. The fight against the criminalization of our public spaces  and poor peoples is just beginning. Please begin your on-line resistance by signing the petition to Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down

Cover Photo of Berkeley Sit-Down Protest by Will Steele


"Homelessness is that intersection for all oppression."

Teague Gonzalez, Homeless Action Center stated during her address in a recent forum panel. Gonzalez discussed the treatment of house less/landless people, via po-lice harassment, and the laws that criminalize them.

"Po-lice State of AmeriKKKa. It is literally a crime to be poor in the U.S.A!"

"Tiny" Lisa Gray-Garcia, in her book "Criminal of Poverty" chronicling her life experience of po-lice harassment while house/less with her mom. The po-lice officer denied her wishes, and proceeded to tow their car/home.

As a community, poverty, race, and class segregation via "policy proposals" is what we face every single second of our lives. We're profiled by politicians (with po-lice and military as their arm) who allege and “pledge” themselves as "public servants." Often, one is brainwashed to believe that the "laws" inked into implementation is aimed only for "order" in society.

Despite the unrelenting efforts of my family at POOR, and many of our community comrades to defeat its voter approval; Sit/Lie law "civil sidewalks" was passed here in San Francisco, last year. Its ordinance is expected to parallel a perilous precedent in punishing the poor.

If someone sleeps on the sidewalk, the first “offense” is a fine of $50-$100. The second “offense” within a 24 hour period is $300- $500 and up to 10 days in jail or both. The third “offense” within 120 days of conviction is $400-$500, up to 30 days or both. In of itself, it is spreading across the country to other cities.

The City of Berkeley, CA is next in line to lobby and legislate this "law." The "civil sidewalks" replicated, re-introduced into "sidewalk management."

Its history even ranges as far as to the 14th century under the guise of "settlement laws." The first was passed under Edward III of England in 1349; although these laws would not be titled as "settlement laws" until three centuries later. The Tudors was a European royal house of Welsh origin that ruled the Kingdom of Ireland and its realms from 1485 till 1603.

They privatized church holdings beneficial for seniors, people succumbed to sicknesses, orphans, and veterans. Because there was an "epidemic of homelessness" the Tudors incorporated Edward's Poor Laws for "social control."

Myself, my mentor "Tiny" Lisa Gray-Garcia (POOR co-founder) and fellow comrade Ruyata Akio Mc Clothin a.k.a RAM, have each experienced the consequences for the sole act of being poor. It is one of the key components at the core of why we re-port and sup-port in resistance to all injustices.

Tiny ticketed throughout her many grueling years for living on the street, while caring for her mom, "Mama Dee" Gray-Garcia. RAM racially-profiled by members of the San Francisco Police Department, on numerous occasions. Myself, while sitting in a single room occupancy hotel one night over five years ago, for a crime I did not commit. My very life almost stolen as a result.

Ironically, some things never change for others in similar instances:

On March 17th, 2011 (Saint Patrick's Day) the three of us attended a forum panel at U.C. Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law. On the panel were fellow comrades in our struggle. Bob Offer-Westort, from the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. Teague Gonzalez, an attorney from the Homeless Action Network. Osha Neumann, supervising attorney for the East Bay Law Community Center.

The purpose for this panel was to prevent this "proposal" from passing, and displacing house/less people from sidewalks. How would this affect the most vulnerable house/less who're seniors and people with disabilities?

"We have 550 cases we're representing in court." Teague Gonzalez said. She would later describe her office's client capacity in court. "As we win cases, we take cases but our capacity is around 550." I then asked her how many of those cases involved homeless people cited for living on a sidewalk.

Gonzalez explained that their Berkeley office receives many cases of clients "cited for all sorts of living outdoors citation."

"Nobody has been cited with living on.........or lying that I know of." Gonzalez says. "But if the law passes (sidewalks management) I imagine we'll start seeing more of that." Unlike Municipal Police Code Sections 22-24, and California Penal Code Section 647c that addresses “sidewalk obstruction” Sit/Lie only addresses non-obstructive sitting and lying down. No other activities.

The unforgettable-era of the civil rights movement was pivotal in penetrating these injustices. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat led to the defeat of white segregation/supremacy on public transportation in 1955. The student "sit-ins" like the incident in a Woolworth's department store in Jackson, Mississippi on May 28th, 1963.

The students were viciously attacked by angry white mobs for their agitation to segregation.

In 1968, the Haight-Ashbury Merchants and Improvement Association lobbied the S.F. Board of Supervisors to pass a law that would remove all hippies in that district. In the Castro District, gay men were targeted by pol-ice officers for sitting outside bars. In 1979 it was repealed due to violations of the Fourteenth Amendment which cites a citizen’s right to Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.

Ironically, in a history repeating of sorts, the "Sit/Lie" proposal resurfaced last year in the Haight-Ashbury District. The perception from my mentor, Tiny, was this would start in this particular area (that's predominately white) then it would trend towards areas targeting house/less folks, and communities of color.

“In the wake of the proposed sit-lie law, which would make it illegal for poor people to sit or lie on any public sidewalk or street, the San Francisco is increasingly giving public streets and sidewalks away to large corporate festivals where rich, mostly white people stumble around with open containers, drunk and disorderly."

Tiny in her article, "When the rich can sit on sidewalks."

Lobbyists lure the minds of the ignorant and/or supporters with covert corporate components: T.V. commercial ads, mainstream media, and bulletin board posts in communities. This can be said of so-called journalists. S.F. Chronicle writer, C.W. Nevius known for his homeless hounding editorials appeared arrogant and smug following the passage of “Sit/Lie” last year.

“If they want to mutter and grouse about the election, that's fine. They've been muttering and grousing about other, similar issues they opposed - Care Not Cash, the Community Justice Center - for years.”

Its unseen ulterior motives are often seen by us poverty scholars when we witness "sweeps." From po-lice officers "enforcing" city ordinances forcing house/less people from sleeping in doorways, parks, storefronts, and office buildings. In the case of Rhonda Patterson in 2009, a landless African Descent woman who slept in a storefront was falsely accussed of harassment by a lawyer.

“I’m not going to do anything about Mrs. Patterson. I have known her for many years and she has never hurt anybody.” Officer Chiu, a San Francisco police officer said to Tiny. She had witnessed the attorney yelling at Miss Patterson to move.

"In 1994, the City of Berkeley passed a law against aggressive panhandling." Osha Neumann explained. Like S.F. Board of Police Commissioner, Petra De Jesus pointed out before a hearing held on "Sit/Lie" last year, Osha stated that "there is already a law in place against lying on a sidewalk."

Elsewhere in 1994, then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani created similar components of “Sit/Lie”. They would later generate to other cities (countries even) targeting poor people via "sweeps."

In his words for instituting this fascism model: "It's the street tax paid to drunks and panhandlers. It's the squeegee men shaking down the motorist waiting at a light. It's the trash storms, the swirling mass of garbage left by peddlers and panhandlers, and open-air drug bazaars on unclean streets."

In terms of these trends, other cities have proposed this law in the past. Bob pointed out that it failed "three times" in Portland. In the Los Angeles 2006 case of Jones v. Los Angeles (444 F.3d 1118 [2006]) the court prohibited pol-ice officers from arresting house/less people, who slept on the sidewalks when shelter beds weren't available.

Moreover, it violated the Eight Amendment of the U.S. Constitution citing "cruel and unusual punishment."

Recently, this Race, Media, Poverty (and Legal) Scholar attempted to contact the Downtown Berkeley Business Improvement District. "They're the primary mover on this." Bob later explained to me. When I called the office, a woman claimed that she "didn't have any knowledge" to this proposal, but would research this proposal.

She did, however mention in mid-sentence per my inquiry that the "sidewalks" should be clear for the disabled.

"The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship."

George Bernard Shaw

I want to give credit to most of the research surrounding "Sit/Lie" and "sidewalk management to Bob Offer-Westort and Linda Lyne. Great work!

Wow, things sure were desperate in Tudor times! It's bad enough when people succumb to sickness, but when they succumb to orphans and veterans, you know times are bad!
Anybody editing over there?

read the FOX news style guide. Good for you.

"They privatized church holdings....... beneficial for seniors, people succumbed to sicknesses, orphans, and veterans."

I could have said "that were" beneficial to the said above, but I was on a deadline, my apologies.


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