Another Response to the Task Farce and the Schnaar Critique
It's important to hear voices speaking sanity in the midst of early winter madness. Steve Schnaar's critique of the Citizen's Task Force on Public Safety (which I've taken to calling the Task Farce to Prompt Anti-Homeless Hysteria) is a good first step.. I would go significantly further. These are my thoughts ("RN"), referencing Schnaar's 8 points and presenting my own "Sample Letter" at the end. To follow the sections of Schnaar's critique that I reply to, go to http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/11/26/18746864.php
1. Inaccurate statistics: A. Statistics suggesting the SCPD is understaffed
RN: Useful information
B. Statistics connecting the Homeless Services Center to arrests
RN: This “Calls for Service” stat is misleading. It shows the real bias and direction not just of the report, but discredits Clark and SCPD through conflating “calls” with “crimes”. Given the amped up hostility being generated against homeless people, who are considered ipso facto “suspicious”, this uses the manufactured and orchestrated suspicion to generate a picture that seeks to brand and incriminate a class of people.
This critique, however fails to note that the “arrests” and “citations” are not specific as to which “crimes” are involved. The appendices tend to point the finger at the Sleeping Ban as a prime mover here. Schnaar's critique also seems to more concerned with defending the Homeless (Lack of ) Services Center [HLOSC] rather than exposing the fundamental relabeling deception involved in the very naming of the Task Force...”Public Safety” meaning “Anxious About Homeless”.
Certain parts of the HLOSC (its meals, its medical program, its miniscule shelter) need to be defended, but other aspects have long needed critical examination (its refusal to defend the rights of its clients, the lack of shelter, collusion with the “homeless as nuisance criminals” mentality by accepting the $100,000 gate, security guards, ID cards, etc. etc.).
2. Unscientific and counterproductive calls to restrict needle exchange programs:
RN: Where's the defense of the Barson St. needle exchange program, which didn't even wait for the Task Farce report or any public input to destroy it back in January in closed session? The thousand needles found by scavenging homeless dump-sites and areas infrequently visited by the public are scarcely significant compared to the 250,000 needles exchanged each year.
The failure of politicians and would be politicians who have had needle exchange experience (Steve Pleich—are you listening?) to denounce and expose this fear mongering hoax and defend SOS needle exchange is another example of the “tack with the toxic wind” policies of (formerly) liberal politicians.
3. Problematic assumptions and policy recommendations with respect to homelessness:
RN: It's not just a matter of “separate issues”; the use of “mentally ill”, “drug abuser”, “alcoholic” labels are covers for ignoring the basic problem: lack of housing and jobs. Drug courts and Homeless courts have been denounced by the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and other advocates. Such courts ignore the fact that the “crimes” cited aren't crimes at all. They encourage homeless and drug war victims to “plead guilty” where there is no guilt.
Since the guilt lies on the backs of the institutions harassing, citing, and jailing them and the obscene police-judicial-jail system that destroys their lives, supporting these rights-free courts is a form of colluding with the “sweep 'em out of sight” and simply assists bureaucrats who want to keep the system running more cheaply without providing any real new resources broadly (similar to 180/180). You also need to be a “good” homeless person to get recommended into these programs locally. If you're an activist, good luck.
There is no documentation showing that homeless people are a greater threat than housed folks or ordinary travelers and tourists. The whole presumption is undocumented, prejudicial, and likely false yet is really repeatedly asserted as though proven. Nor does the report or this critique mention the thefts, false arrests, and abuses homeless people suffer regularly for simply being (asleep, in a forbidden area, with an open container in their campsite, caught with a cigarette, etc.).
4. Harsher sentencing is ineffective, and contradictory to State mandates:
RN: The city attorney already has the power to issue misdemeanor warrants after three unattended infractions as well as making each subsequent infraction a misdemeanor. The only issue has been who'll pay for it and who'll do the prosecuting. Right now it's the City. Stop the prosecutions. These unconstitutional powers are articulated under MC 4.04.010 and 4.04.015—which finds defendants guilty without any trial for the alleged “unattended” infractions.
The Task Farce is looking for the D.A. To do it. “Addressing citations” means paying unreasonable fines or fees to Community Options. It also means trudging to court. Camping citations, I'm now told by Chris M. of the HLOSC, will not be dismissed even if folks are on the waiting list of the specified shelters even if Winter Armory is not full. This violates the actual wording of MC 6.36.055, but no doubt pleases bigots in the Harvey West Neighborhood, the Downtown Association, and the soon-to-be-Mayor Robinson's City Council
Not much space is given here to just leaving people alone or allowing them to shelter themselves by providing minimal facilities like campgrounds, portapotties, etc. until the real housing and jobs situation is addressed or there's a radical change. Agreeing that there need to be punishments at all for these conditions (including Drug War crimes) gets you stuck in the playbook of the Take Over Santa Cruz crowd (and actually the long term liberal-coated but bitter-at-the-core agenda of city staff, past city councils, and the SCPD).
5. Cracking down on marijuana cultivation is unsupported by evidence:
RN: It would be useful to get stats about the number of victimless victims in the Santa Cruz jail for possessing, using, buying, or selling “illegal” drugs generally, and marijuana specifically. Nationally marijuana arrest rates are on the rise and, I suspect, it is also the case in Santa Cruz (the liberal myths notwithstanding). The City has moved first to freeze and then ban all dispensary openings beyond the two (now one) open now.
The Measure K Commission, hobbled, stacked, and co-opted ignores police activity violating the citizen initiative hasn't had a full compliment of members in years—tip of the hat to Don Lane, Tony Madrigal, and Micah Posner who didn't appoint members. The Task Farce calls for eliminating K after the Take Over Santa Cruz crowd successfully killed an application last spring for a 2nd.
A new application at the Limekiln site (formerly Ken Sampson's location) has adopted neo-fascist hyper-security measures assuring the Planning Commission that they would have First Alarm stalking the street to finger, disperse, and ban homeless loiterers and legitimate patients medicating in their cars—so their application may make it through.
County drug warrior cops-turned-political-pig Zack Friend has moved to essentially ban marijuana dispensaries in San Lorenzo Valley (See November 2013 Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin article by Wendy Sigmund). The tired but apparently effective use of the Drug War—long a Sentinel and SCPD staple—is on the march again (needle-mania!).
6. Domestic violence and sexual assault:
RN: Obviously this was not the point or focus of the Task Farce, which was designed to raise fear and anger against the “nuisance behavior” of the troublesome homeless and hippies spoiling the aesthetic and economic value of property in town. Ditto, with real crimes like assault, homicide, and burglary. Completely ignored: white-collar crime, which ultimately has a far more profound (though hidden) impact on the community. Rent profiteering, police abuse, etc. are completely off the map.
7. Funding recommendations fall short:
RN: Drug Courts and Homeless Courts are standard ways of rationalizing the criminalization of the homeless and victimless drug users, instead of addressing even the obvious—decriminalizing basic human functions especially when there's not even a wretched shelter and car-camping is banned. It also requires homeless people to plead “guilty” and accept some phony program for simply doing what is necessary to survive. Also, as is the problem with liberal critics generally, there's the danger of buying into the “Public Safety” mythology that there's some kind of crime crisis when there isn't. There's a Take Over Santa Cruz organizing crisis.
If by “recidivism”, the commission means Repeated sleeping at night, Drug use, sitting next to a building downtown, or taking up ore than 12 square feet on the sidewalk while playing a guitar, it's simply horseshit. And needs to be identified as such without pretending that liberals can do a better job with the “public safety crisis”. Then it simply becomes a political stepping stool, placed firmly on the bodies and lives of homeless people.
Also the Task Force (and City Council)'s priories are clear and mind-numbingly repetitious—throw more money at police, First Alarm thugs (and the numerous other heavies lurking around town in uniforms), and give lip-service to treatment programs. Of course, while criminalization is in force, the whole “treatment” scam is largely a phony profiteering expedition which encourages hypocrisy and futility. Santa Cruz could take the first steps in looking towards real decriminalization instead of buying on to Drug War Hysteria. Ot at least, critics of this report could.
8. Assertions unsupported by cited facts, and terms not clearly defined:
RN: Not to mention the fact that the housed population accounts for an exponentially greater number of such “crimes” in Santa Cruz. Forget “calls for service”--this is where one of Deborah Elston's Santa Cruz Neighborites calls the cops to harass an “annoying” panhandler or the police log a visit based on their Predictive Policing program. Missing are the specific stats of actual crimes claimed, cited for, arrested for, and convicted for. This would give us an idea of the great Crime Threat we are facing. According to Chief Vogel, the broad picture has not changed over the decade significantly. (Admittedly he may be protecting his own department, but his opinion is worth weighing among other factors.)
MY SAMPLE LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY (to be posted, sent to newspapers, tweeted, facebooked, and generally distributed)
(while a letter to the City Council may be useful for symbolic or token purposes, actually expecting meaningful action from this apparently deaf and co opted group is an act of hopeless self-delusion)
We must consider the heightened homeless death rate (20 years less life expectancy), the oncoming winter, and the acknowledged lack of shelter for 1000-2000 people in Santa Cruz city alone,
We are aware of the rise of vigilante groups, supported by city staff, city police private security agencies, various state agencies, and county sheriffs conspiring quite actively and openly to drive homeless people out of the area.
These activities involve a variety of weapons--used on a continuing basis--harassing homeless people in public spaces for victimless crimes (like sitting next to a building, peacefull sparechanging, sleeping in a park after dark, or raising a tent for protective purposes.
Defining innocent and life-sustaining homeless activity as "crime" is at the core of the manufactured "Public Safety" crisis being pushed by those who are made uncomfortable with the very thought of poor people shivering in bushes seeking a few snatches of sleep. Their discomfort is being turned--not against authorities who have for years have signed on to this false and malicious characterization, but against the victims, who are now being portrayed as "problematic", "nuisances< and, of course, "criminals".
Police "crime" stats are then inflated by treating "homeless=criminals" calls as legitimate "calls for service". These nuisance calls
from nervous bigots and those seeking to push their particular gated gentrified community agenda provide a profoundly misleading and fear-distorted picture of the real situation. The real Public Safety hazard is against the homeless public, but this is reversed through repeated assertion.
Destruction of homeless property including medicine, previous personal keepsakes, survival gear, and clothing is a regular activity in spite of official denials.
Vehicles used for homeless shelters are regularly stalked and denounced.
The real "Public Safety" crisis involves the safety of the most vulnerable population--much of it disabled, some elderly, some with families & children. The woefully inadequate shelter, housing, rents, and job situation is ignored with homeless people instead rebranded as "lazy", "alcoholic", "drug-addicted", or "mentally ill".
Immediate action must be taken to support existing homeless encampments by providing trash pick-up's, sanitation services, blankets, tents, and other protective fear. Homeless people need to be equipped with video-ready cell-phones to document the inevitable public safety hazards they face.
The entire neo-fascist fantasy of a "Public Safety" crisis for the community must be vigorously rejected. Advocates of this kind of disinformation should not be appeased or enabled, but called out as ignorant or misinformed. Such fear-spreading bigotry needs to be honestly labeled and exposed as such.
The use of ancient "Reefer Madness" and Drug War hysteria, vastly inflating the dangers of improperly discarded needles needles needs to be countered with a real campaign to provide Inhalation and Injection Centers, expanded needle exchange, a complete abolition of the toxic drug laws, and the redirection of the money dumped on courts, jails, and other bureaucrats to provide voluntary drug treatment centers and other socially necessary reforms.
Jurors need to know they can vote "not guilty" and stop the war in its tracks--if this Jury Nullification strategy is widely followed.
Dedicated direct action can turn the tide and reawaken heart and hope. The answers like not with the Task Farce, the City Council, the police, or the judicial juggernaut--but with us.