The Spare Changer Original Articles: 2014
By Lawson H Snipes Jr
|Vol 3 No 11 September 2014 Issue|
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The Spare Changer
Our mission is simple: To inform the uninformed, to entertain, and most importantly to foster pride and self- respect within and among the unsheltered homeless here and throughout the country. We do this by proffering something to you, our valued reader. Your donation, in this time of increased budget cuts to social services, narrows the gap between basic needs you and I may take for granted, but which remain unmet by social service agency funding and the truly courageous efforts of the sheltered and un-sheltered poor. “It is better to give than to receive,” says The Bible. We say it is even better when we give something back. Enjoy „The Spange!‟
Policing the Homeless & Other Victims of Poverty
“To Protect and To Serve” A Thing of the Past?
“To Protect & To
So let’s say a fireman and a policeman are
people with values and commitments to service we want our family, our country, and our planet to emulate. You know, people we can trust, people we would want our kids to grow up and be like since these people are the people who protect and serve us. People who as
part of their job and justification for their compensation. Some take more and different kinds of risks to their personal safety than others, Davis vs. Ferguson for example, yet remember their mission to protect and serve. Others often have missions to go home without risk at any cost--in the course of performing their duties.
Policing is dangerous work, or can be
depending on the neighborhood; less so in
places like Our Little City of Davis where I call home, and more so like in places like Ferguson Missouri or Watts California where I used to live.
Say you live in a poor neighborhood, are
unemployed or slave- waged underemployed for a long time or, perhaps, so poor you are living on welfare or street charity.
Or worse, let’s say you are homeless and living hand to mouth; panhandling on the streets, recycling cans and bottles to turn in,
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doing odd jobs when you can find the work or middle-manning small
“dope deals” to pay for food, cigarettes, your own dope or alcohol or both, transportation, laundry, cell phone service, these kinds of things, most of which we all need on a daily basis, the poor more so, just to get through the day. Before long you have
“that homeless look” about you.
What do you think, how do you feel about
emergency response teams like fireman and police? What do you think about them when they are on duty? What do you think about them when they are off? What do you think they would think about you?
Ever wonder what it must be like for law
enforcement officers on patrol to have balance civil
complaints against homeless and homeless- looking people we all encounter daily, and the civil rights and liberties of homeless people who
“look” like the “kind” of people that commit crimes; with each and every encounter, each and every day?
“Poor” ourselves or not, we all see poverty.
We may not experience it, but the experience itself impacts us all; many, emotionally, and why not? How can it not?
The poor and their children need to eat and grow up to earn a living somehow, right? When we grow up poor, we have much more contact with police. Black, White, Hispanic or polka dot, that is a given.
I see more street artists/vendors, more
sign-flying panhandlers than I used to, and more
and more can-and-bottle recyclers, too. I see more and more youths just
‘hanging out’ as well. I bet you do too. The change in our economy is the cause of that. With more people being born and people living longer, coupled with the need for laborers growing less and less as technology makes human labor more and more obsolete, police are going to see teens and young adults just hanging out, more and more.
As a recycler, survival
is all but impossible without raiding apartment building dumpsters (frowned upon if not illegal), city ‘recycle’ trash containers or other regulated recyclables (definitely illegal). If you “work” as a recycler for lack of employment opportunities, marketable skills or ability to “play well with others” as many of the disenfranchised are,
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sooner or later you are going to come in contact with police. If things are better for poor people, if it’s right to say so, it still doesn’t look like it when you are looking at a willingness of societies to accept poverty to this degree; that people have to scavenge, beg or steal to survive.
Small wonder it
seems like it’s illegal just to be poor these days…
Folks that have homes and enjoy a
living-wage employment would surely benefit from the provision of homes for those that don’t, and in so many ways. And when they don’t? It isn’t long before poor people, especially homeless poor people, get caught between that rock and that hard place.
Even if they are not homeless, teens and
young adults in larger cities, communities and neighborhoods, large and small really, especially in groups, look like “they must be up to ‘no good’.”
Might as well check them out, right? (Or
Then the police come out, often in
response to a neighbor call so there is no choice to investigate and, all too often, it’s only an “eyesore.” It is only a
“quality of life” complaint.
Police can do something about this, yes, but boy how tough it must be working the streets these days; these guys and gals are charged with the unenviable task of balancing neighbor complaints against the civil liberties and rights of homeless and other poor people, to live.
How do folks feel, folks on the streets,
about their experiences? I wonder how the police- people feel about theirs...
A good question for me because, as people, people who work in law enforcement have feelings, too. They are human.
Personally, I respect the badge, but that
does not mean I respect what is penned to it. That has to be earned, and when it is not, you get events like Ferguson… A kid makes a small mistake, a cop makes a much larger one, and a community makes an even larger one in response.
I don’t think cops get
treated like firefighters, on duty or off, but they should. Firefighters are respected, but not feared. And that is the diffderence that leads to officer
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shootings on unarmed suspects.
That admiration, that looking-up to, is just not
built into the badge, into the minds of the poor anymore, not like when I was a kid, and I grew up in hotbed of LA, Watts actually, bordering on The East LA. WE liked firefighters and Cops
But then, it’s a not firefighter’s job to be
feared. Everybody does stuff they want to keep to themselves or at most, willing to share with but a few key members of their personal universe, so, with no alternative but to do some things like bathe or sleep or eat or just to stay cool in hot summers, in public, it is here when it starts to feel like it’s illegal just to be poor...
Some poor people that see no
prospects for “the good life” certainly commit crimes to live; our for- profit prison systems are proof of that, so when somebody working as a law enforcement officer sees poor people, it can feel to the officer like he is seeing a “crook.” And there my friends, is the bugaboo....
Now let’s also say you have been asked
to answer a brief survey, as was I by Facebook friend Gregory Olson. (You can Google search his blogs; they are good reads!)
The first question was something like
“When you encounter a firefighter in a non- emergency situation, what does it make you think and/or how does it make you feel?” Then, softly, you are asked “On a scale of 1- 10, how positive or negative is your general impression of firefighters?”
I love how these psych-types of
questionnaires try to sneak up on us: You are next asked: “When you encounter a police officer in a non-emergency situation, what do you think and/or how does it make you feel?” And then you are asked to rank using that same firefighter 1-10 scale of “positive or negative general impression.”
How would answer these questions?
Aside from people who want as little to
do with “society” and “good” citizenship as possible, disenfranchised if not mentally ill, if that’s not redundant, nobody chooses to be homeless without compelling reasons. Believe it.
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I suspect police must frequently invade the
privacy of homeless people in response to “quality of life” impositions, and sometimes misdemeanors and even activity evoking a felony charge from “the system.”
How difficult it must be to understand the
Cop doing the job, and getting paid for it, for the investigated, for the detained, for the arrested
“Crook” or “Cop,” if you expect to be
treated with contempt, it shows doesn’t it? Your mind-set in an encounter predisposes you to be on guard. “It’s only natural.”
Your defenses are
up, and so, all too often, communication and cooperation to achieve best results can only go
downhill from there. But expect to be treated with respect, and you will get it.
“Crooks” and “Cops” should learn that when
they “naturally” assume an adversarial position, defensive or otherwise in an officer/suspect contact, this relationship between people can get dicey, and quickly: Someone could get shot and killed. It doesn’t take much for this to happen if a police department’s policy is shooting first to be on the
We are all at law enforcement’s mercy
“… to protect and to serve.” So they know they are “safe,” cops must see their commands obeyed, because this is the feedback response they are trained to affirm they are personally “safe” in the performance of their duty
as law enforcement officers.
Officers want to go home at the end of
their work day just like you and I do, but do they go too far to insure their own safety?
An admonishment, a simple traffic stop, a
simple domestic dispute or petty theft can, in an instant, be a matter of life and death, for the suspect.
As it stands, barring some miracle of politics
proclaiming a moratorium on center mass shootings of unarmed suspects, anyone can be shot and killed for not hearing, understanding, or willfully failing to follow a police command, no matter how personally dangerous or obviously innocuous the command.
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When and where police commands are
not followed fast enough, the opportunity for civil rights violations emerge. Why? Because, as I see it, in the final analysis, there is no real accountability, not when Police and their departments circle their wagons, and investigators, prosecutors, judges and Police Departments protect their officers, for in abandoning them, they would be abandoning their policies as well as their officers. No good Cop wants to be in law enforcement without the confidence they will be supported by their Departments in the performance of their duty.
Nobody wants to see a cop go to prison,
except maybe the prisoners, so their policies have to be, above all, safety for the officer first, even if it means killing a
suspect, just to be sure; to be sure to make it back home at the end of the day and on the face of it seems fair… Except when the real risk to that officer’s life was dubious at best. Except when only token effort is made to control the situation short of what amounts to street justice with a badge.
It doesn’t take good police work to answer a
quality-of-life complaint by a concerned citizen with a cell phone. It takes good police work to explain why they are confronting someone to that someone with the mission of clearly conveying the citizen’s complaint from that citizen’s point of view. And then talk about alternatives.
Given most scenarios
like these, the only real
crimes being the nuisance of drinking in public and
talking loudly, staying too long in a public bathroom or sleeping in a community park, or a green-belted suburb, or flying a panhandle sign in front of a bank, or restaurant, or from the median of a busy road, nobody should get shot.
It seems to me that
any officer not getting
shot at, or coming on to someone whom they have reason to believe is unarmed that cannot take control the situation with all the non-lethal tools at his/her disposal, should go into some other line of work.
Having said this
though, police officers, whether in small towns like Davis or larger cities like Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York City, never know who or exactly what they are going to encounter; they get a quick, coded
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dispatch with few details to get out there fast, so I think a little wariness is to be expected by any citizen even for the most seemingly inexplicable “stop” or detention. And a lot of wariness on the part of the officer; for all the Cop knows, this encounter could be the one that sends you to prison for the rest of life; it could be your third “strike,” and “25 to life” in prison doesn’t sound all that appealing to anybody.
The police don’t really know what they
will encounter, but this much they do know: they know that they don’t know and are careful in the extreme because of it.
Officers must continue their training, ongoing, specifically sensitivity training appropriate for the criminal elements in their jurisdiction, or fear of the police by the poor demographic is all you will
ever get, and police relations with their community will suffer.
We hear more and more about racial profiling across the country as well as poor people profiling. But at what point does “just plain good police work” become “profiling?” It seems to me there is a very fine line between the two and further, it seems to me, that that line moves.
So, on either side of
the badge, this spells trouble because it can lead from charges of resisting arrest, assault upon a police officer or, in a worst case scenario like
Ferguson, an “officer involved shooting” in which a (Black 6”4’, 300lb belligerent but) unarmed teen is shot and intentionally killed. Given that predominately African-American community’s outraged response, I have to ask
myself “At what point did the officer who, after the struggle, received compliance (hands in the air) does the officer (“who is only human”), decide to shoot to kill?
There are now two levels of investigation; local and at the Attorney General levels in Ferguson, Mo. Now, and I have little doubt the officer will be brought up on charges because, independent of the “evidence,” the only way to show impartiality and protect the officer and so his department’s policies on gun use, is to prosecute and acquit. Yes, I predict he will be charged and acquitted. The prosecution won’t try very hard. A guilty verdict by
“the system” is a guilty verdict against the system.
Officers on patrol
cannot do their job, or
they are allowed to think they cannot, if they are not confident “the system” will
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back them up. This kind of
“confidence” we don’t need, because it is a petrie dish for abuse; for violation of civil rights under color of authority. This is the mind- set I want to see gone.
Here is where
shootings, or lack of departmental accountability in the training of their officers, that causes deaths of unarmed, under-armed, failure to comply with police commands and blatant racial killings in areas where there is already racial conflict between Cops and teens, particularly Black and Hispanic ones.
Departments and the
officers who follow its police “procedures” and protocols prioritize “going home safe” at the end of their work day. What officers see as protecting themselves when they pull
their guns, teens, “street people” and poor people in general, see a weapon pointed at them as aggressing them, not as a personal defense or tool to insure mere compliance.
I say lower the bar
for acceptable risk,
lower the bar for accountability, raise the bar for pulling the gun and raise the bar for shooting to kill, or to “stop” with lethal force. Do this, make the department make its officers understand they have a salary, a pension, a radio, a vest and a badge that goes with their job, and so a risk to themselves, and though they have a right to go home at the end of the day, no more will policies and procedures be allowed to shield them.
With today’s technology, we have
cameras that can be affixed to each officer. We have Tasers. We have
tranquilizing darts. We have rifle-propelled nets. We have back up. Police officers can force compliance without killing people. It takes more work, but that is what they get paid for, isn’t it?
Lowering these bars for these reasons will
discourage “bad” cops yes, but will not affect good ones, will it? This is what I want to see. The risk to people who become officers “to protect and to serve” will not be adversely affected, relative to the preservation of everyone’s life. The cops who got their badge before they got their felonies, will. Isn’t that what we all want?
I say that unless the officer, or an innocent
bystander or his/her partner is faced with being shot at, these are the kinds of tools I want to see mandated to be employed
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first, to get the officer home safe. Officers get paid to take risks. I suspect we would see far, far fewer officer involved shootings of unarmed “suspects,” especially where “race” will be seen as an issue; especially in communities where “race” …is already one.
What do you say? As for me, I smile and
wave when I see a fireman, off-duty or on, but when I see a cop approaching me, the first thing I think is “uh- oh, what have I done?”
Personally, I have a
somewhat “checkered” history with police; if not because am Black or homeless, then because in my youth, I appeared as arrogant—“he has a mouth on him” one officer described me to another once. Now older and hopefully wiser, I can still see something of a
conditioned emotional response, a kind of fear in me, when approached. It fades as their respect for me grows during an encounter. I’ve learned we get respect where you give it.
I doubt it’s any different for an officer,
it shouldn’t be anyway, who never knows what will happen to him/her in the performance of their duties, but I do think “going home safe,” shooting kill, and accountability for it needs to be reprioritized. I am tired of hearing of unarmed people, especially Black teens, frankly, getting shot multiple times with no accountability because the officer can always say he felt fear for his life…
I think respect, and
not fear, must be re-
established between police and those of us they serve;
all members of the community. You start by changing gun policy and you continue by hiring officers consistent with the ethnic make-up of the communities policed. You continue with ongoing sensitivity training and outreach-- and wild animal tranquilizing darts and net rifles in the trunks of the patrol cruisers. Takes more work, time and money sure, but we all still get to go home, or homeless, as the case may be. What do you think?
Editor’s Note: At the time of this writing, there was no time to ask the local Davis Police Department if it would be willing to submit their policies and views on their experiences with local homeless, what it’s like for them and what policies and protocols are trained in its officers. I have spoken to at least two officers who suggested I speak with the
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chief and assistant chief and I will soon. I want to hear from them and their officers, and with administrative permission, I hope to publish on these topics from their perspective, but for now though, here is something written about 5 years ago, when there was greater conflict between the police and minorities; especially with members of the homeless community. This submission to The Spange was written at my request by former Davis Police Department Assist. Chief Steven Pierce. I had been concerned about police relations in general, but specifically about whether or not Davis was “homeless friendly.” Between sensitivity training for our officers and “bad apples” leaving, going to prison and just dying out, things are much, much better, now.
Are Davis Police
to the Homeless?
Steven Pierce, Assistant Police
Davis Police Department
Are Davis Police Officers unfriendly to
the homeless? This is not an easy question to answer. Like most situations, the answer depends on your point of view. A fair number of homeless people would say
“yes”, the cops in Davis don’t like the homeless and frequently (and unnecessarily) harass us.
Conversely, some citizens who live near
certain parks in town, or who live/work near the downtown think the police are too friendly and don’t’ take a hard enough stance on what they perceive to be unacceptable behavior on the part of the homeless. The police officer does not really think about whether he/she is being friendly. To the officer responding to
complaints of homeless activity, it is just another call for service that they must try and find a solution to.
The Davis Police
statement reads “The mission of the Davis Police Department is to attain the highest quality of life and security for all who live, work, learn, and visit in the City of Davis. We do this by working with the community promoting safety and reducing crime.”
There is no exception for our homeless
citizens. In other words, we are as committed to serving the homeless community as we would any member of our community.
It is the last part of the Mission Statement
that often times brings us into conflict with the homeless – “We do this by working with the community promoting safety and reducing crime.”
We teach and encourage
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citizens to call the police if they see something they think is suspicious or possibly illegal.
Sometimes, due to drug or alcohol
impairment or mental illness, the behavior of homeless people is seen as criminal, bizarre, scary or can make others feel uncomfortable. This is particularly true when the other person is with their children in a park. Inevitably this leads to a call to the police department.
It is not the intention of the DPD or its
employees to criminalize homelessness. However, when we receive a call for service requesting an officer investigate drinking in public, intoxicated people in a park, loud and vulgar language or
“suspicious” behavior, we will respond and investigate.
Our purpose is to keep the peace and,
when needed and
appropriate, enforce the laws of the State and the City ordinances. However, it is our sincere hope that making an arrest will not be necessary.
All the responding officer is seeking is
compliance and cooperation. We train our officers extensively to know the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. In other words, what is intended by having a particular law, not what the actual words are written into the statute.
Depending on the totality of the
situation, it is our general practice to start at the lowest level of enforcement -- a verbal warning. However, after repeated calls and no compliance, the officer must escalate their efforts to gain compliance with the law.
This typically results in citations and/or
arrests. Making an arrest
or citing someone may seem to be unfriendly. Nevertheless, our expectation that a homeless person will follow the law is no less than what we expect of every community member.
Our goal is to seek long-term solutions
to a problem. If warning people and seeking voluntary compliance is not successful or if arresting/citing violators is not successful, then we will work to change the overall environment. For example, we will remove benches and tables; we will cut back bushes and shrubs; we will do what it takes to make the area less desirable for criminal/bad behavior. These are the same strategies we employ in addressing most problems: burglaries, robberies, loud parties, or traffic issues.
homeless people must do things in public that non-homeless people can do in their homes (e.g., have open containers of
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alcohol, sleep, bathe, and meet with friends); their whole life is out there for any passer-by to see.
But, if we could get one message out to
the homeless community, it would be that when (if) you are acting in a way that brings great attention to yourself (e.g., aggressively panhandling) people are going to call the police and we will respond to investigate. That is what the community expects of the police.
Being homeless in Davis is hard. Being a
cop in Davis is hard, too. In both cases, the community knows we are here. In both cases, the community frequently does not understand who we are and what brought us to where we are. And, in both cases, the community frequently tries to avoid contacting us.
While we may not always be as friendly
as the homeless community would like, the
Davis Police Department is not trying to make being homeless any harder.
Officers from the DPD are ready and
willing to help the homeless with referrals or if they are a victim of a crime. Please don’t hesitate to ask a cop for help.
Editor’s Comment: Well, there you have it from this one local, administrative officer’s perspective. I will make an effort to learn more about policy, procedure, protocol and “sensitivity training” here, by next issue!
Rev. Ashley Horan
In August of 1965,
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was on vacation when he got word that rioting had broken out in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. The riots were
sparked by the arrest and beating of a young African- American man by the California Highway Patrol-- and it was like a floodgate, letting loose the years of tension in the Black community that were the result of real estate segregation, widespread poverty and terrible schools. The National Guard had been called in, but Watts was in utter turmoil.
A group of Black clergymen from the
neighborhood sent word to Dr. King, pleading for his help. They knew a visit from such a famous leader would bring national attention, and might defuse the situation. King felt like he couldn’t say no, and flew immediately to Los Angeles. He met with white California politicians, as well as Black community leaders and residents of Watts.
He walked through the neighborhood,
and experienced firsthand what biographer David J.
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Carrow calls “the material and spiritual desolation that shattered the lives of the millions of black citizens trapped in
[Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 439].
That night, Dr. King sat in a hotel room and
debriefed the day with his close friend and adviser Bayard Rustin. The two had worked together with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for years, but they had found themselves at odds for a while about the next direction for the Civil Rights Movement in America.
Rustin had been insisting for almost two
years that the movement would fail if they continued to focus on race without considering issues of class and economic justice as well.
King had largely dismissed this idea--
he was content to stick with specific issues like school busing, housing integration, and voting rights. But after walking through Watts, King had a sort of conversion experience. He looked at
Rustin and said, “You know, Bayard, I worked to get these people the right to eat hamburgers [at the lunch counter], and now
I’ve got to do something...
to help them get the money to buy *them+”
[Bearing the Cross, 439].
Just a few weeks after his visit to Watts,
King and the other leaders of the SCLC finalized their plans to begin a “Northern Campaign,” starting with a pilot program in Chicago.
King said, “I have faith that
Chicago... could well become the metropolis where a meaningful non- violent movement could arouse the conscience of this nation to deal realistically with the northern ghetto.”
At the same time, they knew that the
northern fight would be very different--and potentially even more difficult--than what the SCLC had done in the South. In Chicago, racism wasn’t codified in the laws. Mayor Daley was no George Wallace. Whites were generally sympathetic to the civil rights cause, and there were fewer obvious symptoms of racism.
So, the Chicago Freedom Movement
represented a total shift in focus and organizing techniques. In Selma and Birmingham, King and the SCLC had deliberately simplified the issues. They concentrated on very particular, often symbolic, goals--integrating lunch counters, for example [Bearing the Cross, 456]. But the so-called Chicago problem was more nuanced. “*It+ is simply a matter of economic exploitation,” King said.
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“Every condition exists simply because
someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum” *456+, “*whose purpose] is to confine those who have no power and perpetuate their powerlessness.... The slum is little more than a domestic colony which leaves its inhabitants dominated politically, exploited economically, [and] segregated and humiliated at every turn. ...
[We must] organize this total community into units of political and economic power” *466+.
Unfortunately, it was much harder to get
wide support for redistribution of wealth and complex economic reform than it had been to convince people that mowing down children with fire hoses was wrong. Adding an economic focus to the racial justice work of the SCLC represented an incredible threat to the status quo of the white
power structure in a way desegregation did not.
As King remarked, “It didn’t cost the nation
one penny to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation one penny to guarantee the right to vote. The problems we are facing today will cost the nation billions of dollars”
[http://www.poorpeoplesc ampaignppc.org/King-s- Last--March.html].
Dr. King’s analysis of the intersection of
race and class continued to evolve over the last 3 years of his life. He also became increasingly public in his stance against the Vietnam war. He argued that these three evils--racism, classism, and militarism-- were inextricably interlinked. You couldn’t address one without squarely facing up to the others. As his understanding became more nuanced, and he argued more publicly against this trifecta of American evil, Dr. King lost significant support--not
just from white people who had formerly supported his civil rights work, but from many of the Black leaders who had been the backbone of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the past decade.
But Dr. King felt a moral and ethical
responsibility to speak his prophetic truth, whatever the consequences. And he pushed this message up until he died--take, for example, Dr. King’s controversial last Sunday sermon, “Staying Awake
Through a Great
Revolution,” which he delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968.
The Poor People’s
Campaign was set to
launch shortly thereafter. But on April 4, King was assassinated in Memphis.
The campaign still
launched in May, but it ended after only six disastrous weeks. Momentum never built, the media never picked up
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the story, and the Poor
People’s Campaign became what some called the SCLC’s Little Bighorn, dying a tragic death along with Dr. King. This April will mark the 45th anniversary of King’s assassination.
There is no doubt that we live in a
different world today--a world that was profoundly changed by the Civil Rights Movement and its aftermath. After all, the same city that produced the Lawndale Slums of the 1960s is now the hometown of America’s first Black president--a president who will be inaugurated to his second term this King Day, January 21.
And yet... those intertwined structures
of evil--racism, militarism, and classism--have changed very little in the last half century. We no longer see news footage of police releasing attack dogs on African Americans protesting housing segregation... but we know that the vast majority of
subprime mortgages and predatory lending practices that led to the collapse of the housing market were targeted toward people of color, who systematically been denied access to credit over the past several decades.
African Americans are no longer legally
prohibited from owning land, real estate, or businesses in our country...
but we know that almost half of the wealth in this country is concentrated in the hands of only 1% of Americans--and that 97% of those extreme rich are white.
There are no longer state and federal laws
prohibiting people of color from exercising their right to vote... but we know that voting rights are revoked as a result of incarceration, and while people of color make up only 30% of the US population, they are disproportionally arrested and sentenced, making up more than 60% of the prison population.
There is no longer a draft or a war in
Vietnam... but we know that military recruiting is huge in communities of color where young people face more unemployment, educational disadvantage, student loan debt, and lack of economic mobility than in white communities.
There is no longer a significant national
dialogue about race and disparity... rather, we have dog-whistle politics, a racially-coded tax debate, and the greatest racial wealth gap recorded since emancipation. Looking at all of this, it’s hard to argue that we’re actually much better off as a society than we were half a century ago.
This is hard stuff-- hard stuff to live for
people of color, and hard stuff to acknowledge for white folks. It’s just as explosive and inflammatory and complex as it was fifty years ago-- but in our post-Civil Rights Obama era, the dominant
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culture has taught us that we’re supposed to be colorblind, and that we’re not allowed to talk about race and class because we’ll offend someone and just end up fighting. It is still easier for us to focus on individual, discreet issues like gun control or health insurance or educational standards than it is to look at the vast, intertwined morass of issues that spring out of the toxic soil of racial and economic injustice.
We are left overwhelmed and tired
at all there is to be done, wondering if there’s even any hope for fixing such a broken system.
For me, this point of bleak despair is exactly the moment when I most need to remember that Dr. King was not just a political leader and a gifted organizer--he was a deeply religious man, too; a man whose belief in the radical social teachings of Jesus and the Hebrew Prophets compelled him to incarnate his beliefs throughout his entire life.
A man who had a personal relationship
with a God he knew, deep in his heart, stood on the side of love and justice. A man who saw himself not as a messiah, but as a small part of a long struggle that began long before he was born and would continue long after he died.
A man who knew that the only path
toward salvation was commitment to that which reason fears is non- attainable, but the spirit knows is non-negotiable. In that same sermon, preached five days before his death, Dr. King said,
“On some positions, cowardice asks the question--is it expedient?
And then expedience comes along and asks
the question--is it politic? Vanity asks the question--is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?”
“There comes a time,” he said, “when
one must take the position that it is neither safe nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old spiritual, ‘We ain’t goin’ study war no more.’”
He meant war in foreign nations, yes, but he also meant racial war.
Economic war. War against entire communities of people: the homeless, poor people, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, women, children--who simply want to collect on that mythic promissory note of America.
So how do we honor
Dr. King’s legacy, and
refuse to study war no more? How do we keep that broad picture view, refusing to be derailed by any single issue du jour?
How do we build solidarity across all
our differences, refusing to
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let the structures of oppression lead us to believe that greatest of heresies, that the interests of each of us are not the same as the interests of all of us?
There’s no blueprint. There’s not one protest
we can attend that is the single right cause to support. Not one book study we could do, or legislative action we could take, or editorial we could write that would start to tip the scales toward justice.
But Dr. King would say that it matters
that we do something. That we act, here and now, in this life, to chip away at the foundations of the vast megalith of injustice, rather than staring up at it, overwhelmed and paralyzed as we feel so small in its shadow.
Our salvation lies in our ability to remind
one another that we are, in
Dr. King’s words, “caught in an inescapable network of
mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” That is the purpose of building the Beloved Community that Dr. King talked so much about: To learn hard truths in community. To hold one another’s hands as we march forward, and to restore one another’s souls when we fall down. To be for one another that persistent voice of conscience, asking always,
“Is it right?”
Dr. King often paraphrased the 19th
century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, saying,
“We shall overcome because the arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
May we never forget that ours are the hands that do the bending.
(reprint TSC 2008)
When I describe quality of life for those
not familiar to Davis as the Utopian enclave it is, the quality of Davis K-12 schools, as well as Davis bike paths, come to mind. Davis citizens are bright people and care about their community. Another segment of the population that calls Davis home are its homeless. Davis is a city friendly towards its homeless.
Many social services exist in Davis to benefit
the homeless. The Davis City Council has been favorable in its approval of programs that provide for the homeless.
The citizens of our
community donate their time and monetary resources to further the work of these social services. The homeless live their individual lives in Davis without being harassed by the police. However, we as a community must work harder to reduce homelessness in Davis by
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adopting a community mission to end homelessness altogether.
Our local un- sheltered poor benefit
from numerous non-profit organizations. These non- profits include Davis Community Meals, Short Term Emergency Action and Grace-in-Action. Davis Community Meals offers a year around emergency shelter, a cold weather shelter during the cold months of the year and a transitional shelter program to help the homeless get on their feet.
Any individual, who is willing to be “clean
and sober” and able to follow the rules of the facility, can have a stay in a warm bed under a roof for seven days. A homeless person ready to work and save money towards his or her own place may apply for the transitional housing program, and be sheltered as long as they are employed and save some of their money every month, so that the person
could apply the money towards a security deposit and first month’s rent.
STEAC is the non- profit organization
that provides monthly food and clothing supplies for the poor as well as coordinating with the help of community donations, a program where children of poor families are given gifts during Christmas. I would encourage readers to learn more about these non- profit organizations and get involved in the work that they do.
Over the past few years, concerned
citizens and members of church congregations have incorporated to form the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter of Davis (IRWS). Planning meetings were held and presentations given to church congregations in Davis. After church congregations came on board to participate in numerous capacities, IRWS was able to begin hosting members of the homeless
community during the winter of 2007. The IRWS was able to get members of the homeless community off the streets during those cold months.
The demand for shelter is always
present, year around.
I cannot forget to mention the work of
Food Not Bombs volunteers. Every Sunday since the mid 90’s this organization has been active in serving a Vegan meal for the homeless in Central Park. Many members of the homeless community attend this meal. On a side note, Davis Community Meals hosts a free meal for the homeless twice a week, and the Help and Education Leading to Prevention (H.E.L.P) , an undergraduate club at UC Davis, provides dinner for the homeless once a week on Thursday evening.
The Davis City Council has been
instrumental in its support of the homeless as well. It allocated funds for the
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support of the Caesar Chavez housing development which has gotten some of the homeless off the streets. The Council has approved the existence of the Davis Cold Weather Shelter operated by DCM. Give credit to its members for the support they have provided for homeless programs.
Citizens of Davis provide assistance for
these resources assisting the homeless in numerous capacities. Davis citizens attend non-profit organization fund raisers and provide monetary donations to support the work of these organizations.
Compassionate people volunteer their
time so our non-profits save money (they don’t have anyway) for paying employee staff. This means funds they do have can be applied to the fixed operational costs of keeping the doors of a non- profit agency open, like
rent and utility bills, and as simple an expense as paper, detergent for cleaning sleeping bags and the provision of hygiene kits and more!
The police in Davis do not seem to harass
the homeless intently, but it is standard procedure for the Davis Police Department as well as other police agencies to take a person who has a warrant out for their arrest into custody. This is something that California law mandates. The police do not have a choice in the matter, not much.
What I do not support is police
randomly going up to a homeless individual and doing a warrant check on a person just because they look homeless. This does not occur as frequently in Davis as in other places like nearby Sacramento but I have seen this first hand and I even have great video of this on my cellular phone.
There have been a few allegations where
people have seen police officers of the DPD sitting in their vehicles and monitoring the homeless population at the park with binoculars, and looking for violators of the Open Container Policy.
I personally do not think this is ethical
because the homeless are easy targets for an Open Container Policy violation.
Police departments should think of other
constructive ways of dealing with Open Container violators. On a positive note though, the Davis Police and Fire Department respond rapidly whenever a homeless person is having a crisis.
gesture Davis could do for the homeless without a stable level of income is to provide them shelter year around.
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This is what I have in
mind: An intelligent and eager UC Davis undergraduate student could incorporate a non- profit organization that is geared around subsidizing the rental fees of the homeless who do not have a stable level of income.
This undergraduate student would work
with Davis businesses, wealthy philanthropists like Bill Gates and other UC Davis students to raise funds for such an organization’s mission. The organization would apply for grants provided by national non-profit foundations.
If a homeless person needed income to be
housed and the homeless person did not have a job, the organization could step in and pay the rent of the person who does not have a stable income. Of course the organization would need to work with the homeless person trying to secure that job or to apply for social security. This
organization would instantly get homeless folks off the street while they work towards getting a stable income source for their housing.
Such a program would be most
beneficial for people that are able to live on their own but on a waiting list to get into a transitional housing program. The organization could even add mental health referral assistance for the homeless who secure housing with this program.
Clients for the program would meet
the criteria of being able to live on their own and have a stable level of income afterwards.
After getting them
housed by subsidizing their rental fees for a certain amount of time, this hypothetical organization would next get people housed permanently, and help a person find a stable level of income if they can work,
and SSI if they cannot. If they are disabled, the organization could help them apply for Disability or SSI. Such a program is needed even with the homeless social services already in place. I believe students are capable of running such a program; housing the homeless year
‘round should be a priority for a community like Davis.
Next Issue: Crooks
Cops & Bottle Tops Pt. II
Hosted By Davis
“Employment for the Unemployable”
Printed by Copyland In Davis
Thank You for Your Continuing Support.
It’s Been Great!