As Committed by the City of Portland…
“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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The following is part of a letter delivered to each member of the Portland City Council and the City Attorney on October 7, 2009 by a GROWS member.
The author points out that Portland is breaking state and federal laws in its seizure and systematic disposal of the property of homeless citizens._______________________________________
Portland, Oregon October 7, 2009 Dear City Council Members,
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About Criminalization of Homelessness by the City of Portland
It has been overheard at more than one high-brow cocktail party attended by real estate developers and their favorite politicians in Portland that, “if the City can avoid allowing camping long enough, many of the homeless will move away, and we might also avoid an influx of homeless people from elsewhere.”
Most of the newly homeless out there today are long-time Portlanders, who were working until recently. They want to work again. They consider this place their home, despite their misfortune. Where would those without tolerance for poverty have them go? There are thousands here who are expected to be turned away from our limited official shelters, and they will be violating Portland’s anti-camping law if they so much as pitch a tent during a downpour anywhere in Portland.
The latest comprehensive study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) called, “Out of Sight – Out of Mind?,” surveyed service providers and advocates in 50 of the largest U.S. cities. The study found that 86 percent of U.S. cities surveyed had laws being enforced that prohibited or restricted begging, while 73 percent prohibited or restricted sleeping and/or camping. Over one-third of the cities surveyed have initiated “cracked downs” on homeless people, and nearly half of these cities have engaged in broad police “sweeps” in the past two years. Sound familiar? Such is Portland. Not much different than Houston that way.
So really, where might our homeless neighbors will go? Cold treatment awaits them in nearly every city they might choose to go to. Do the highbrows or their political helpers think that by waiting to act they will see many of them leave Portland?
I am sure this will happen as the rainy season grows colder. Many will leave. Some will die. But the great majority — many thousands who are determined to to get back on their feet again — will stay. Unless they are helped, their suffering this winter will bring consequences which pose threats to public health and safety.
Can we please become a “light on a hill” here to those in need, and stop trying to keep our local poverty hidden?
The Oregon Law Center’s law suit against this City states that, ”Punishing homeless people for sleeping outside is placing the burden of the lack of sufficient housing squarely on the shoulders of those who can do the least to remedy this problem.” This is very true. And it does indeed amount to systematic criminalization of an involuntary status (homelessness), in a majority of cases.
Concerning the Taking of Poor People’s Shelters and of Vital Possessions
Regarding “sweeps” of homeless encampments, and arbitrary takings of personal belongings, the Oregon law concerning proper treatment of the homeless and concerning property seized from ‘illegal camps’ is found at ORS 203.079 (Required elements of local government policies on camping by homeless.) Correspondingly, Portland’s law says:PSF-3.04 – Illegal Camping – Notification & Enforcement, Property & Referral Procedures … Non-Evidentiary Property (835.20) a. Abandoned Non-Valuables: If campers are present, they should be encouraged to clean the site themselves . . . b. Personal Property: For the purposes of this directive, personal property means any item that is reasonable recognizable as belonging to a person and that has apparent use. These items of personal property will be stored for a minimum of thirty (30) days. Items that have no apparent use or are in an unsanitary condition may be immediately discarded upon removal of the homeless individuals from the camping site.
These laws are too often being disregarded by the Portland Police Bureau.
GROWS has heard many sad stories, and we have begun taking affidavits, about the taking of tents, bedding and other personal items from the homeless citizens in ‘sweeps,’ and in particular about subsequent frequent failures by the PPB to make the seized property available for 30 days as required by law.
Too often, for police officers to whom the homeless are not worthy of a place to sleep or to store their few personal belongings, the discretion given them by our laws as to whether a seized item is ‘unsanitary’ or has any ‘apparent usefulness’ is just a joke. Too often their actions are arbitrary and capricious. When such unlawful takings are carried out by private security forces, and this is condoned or not opposed by local law enforcement, then this rises to the level of organized crime.
This behavior among our police has become so common as to be clearly indicative of at least a de facto policy of discrimination against the status of homelessness, in violation of both federal law and state laws concerning due process and equal protection.
The problem of bullies on police forces, ages old, is not being effectively addressed in this City. These laws give overly-wide discretion to our police officers, while top-down acquiescence (if not encouragement) of such policies on the part of their leadership helps to drive this atmosphere of bullying. It is not right to so flippantly dispose of a person’s possessions when they have so very little. These laws need to be tightened up, and the bullying needs to be addressed more aggressively.
Regardless of how the courts may rule concerning the current lawsuit brought by The Oregon Law Center against our anti-camping law, there will be an endless procession of new plaintiffs, and of fresh grievances, and of the inevitable consequences of such fundamental unfairness, until this Council decides to take effective steps to end this criminalization of poverty.
— Dave R.
the GROWS Committee
——————–( end letter to City Attorney )——————
Things that make ya go hmmm….
It kinda figures… Please read this recent report in the Williamette Weekly about our Portland Police Bureau’s Central Precinct Captain, Mark Kruger — the man in charge of conducting oppressive sweeps of homeless encampments in the City Center. See, http://wweek.com/editorial/3549/13195/ .
Numerous statements by Kruger, heard by fellow officers, suggest that he considers homeless people unworthy of constitutional protections. Equally disturbing is the statement of support by Police Chief Rosie Sizer after the Williamette Weekly reported in this, and the silence of City Councilman Dan Saltzman (who oversees the Police Bureau). See, http://blogs.wweek.com/news/2009/10/15/rosie-sizer-tells-entire-police-bureau-she-supports-embattled-capt-mark-kruger/
Police Exploitation of the Poor for Amusement…
Further evidence of hatred or disrespect for the poor showed itself recently when a deal was struck between the Portland Police Bureau and the producers of the television show “COPS.” During the dinner hour on September 10th at Portland’s St. Francis Dining Hall, despite strenuous objections from staff/ volunteers and homeless diners alike, Portland police entered with a film crew for the nationally televised show — looking for an assault suspect.
Most of the poor people who eat at St. Francis and other dining halls are not proud of their poverty. Many first-time-homeless people who were there are daily struggling with a sense of shame over their need for charity.
St. Francis is consistently a peaceful and orderly dining hall, and has been for decades. The police claimed “someone gave permission.” Not true, says Pastoral Administrator Valerie Chapman. We believe her.
Notice: if one dollar or one privilege was exchanged between the PPB and the ‘COPS’ producers (and such was the case), then this amounts to classic exploitation of the poor for the purpose of providing rednecks with amusement.
The Killing of James Chasse…
Not enough can be said about the brutal beating death of a mentally ill man three years ago. Like many homeless people today, James (though housed at the time) appeared to be poor (i.e., without the money for a lawyer), and lacked the social skills needed to fend off an attack by police. The Portland Police Bureau has continued in its tacit approval of this brutality — first by taking three years to complete an investigation, and then recently by finding that the officers acted appropriately when they beat and kicked the man dozens of times.
The Mental Health Association of Portland and numerous other professional groups have called on the police officers responsible to resign. The PPB Officers who killed Chasse, Officer Christopher Humphreys and Sgt. Kyle Nice, are still on duty. See, http://www.portlandcopwatch.org/chasse.html
A Growing List of Killed and Injured…
In recent memory — before the killing of Chasse — there were also the killings by Portland Police of Fouad Kaady, Lukas Glenn, James Perez, Jose Poot, and Kendra James. These are just the cases that we know about. Intimidation and injury has been inflicted on thousands of others. The homeless are especially vulnerable.
Short of killing people, there has been plenty of plain old bullying. The pepper spraying and multiple tazering (while she was on the ground) of 71 year old Eunice Crowder comes to mind. There was no discipline then (2003) for an officer (Jason Seary) who within a year went on, emboldened, to use excessive force to kill unarmed James Perez with several bullets.
The latest unchecked bullying by PPB was the close-range bean-bag shotgun shooting of a 12 year old girl, even after other officers have her mostly subdued. This is Officer Humphreys, the killer of James Chasse, still on duty. The MAX platform video footage of this pathetic Officer in action is provided in the link above, compliments of The Oregonian.
And the lawsuit settlement bills keep piling up. Writer Steve Duin of the The Oregonian and Commissioner Randy Leonard are beginning to get more vocal about this horrible pattern of abuses.
The worst part about this whole pattern is the self-justification by the Police Bureau. As writer Steve Duin wrote, “Portland Police are all about imposing discipline, not exercising it.” The bigger problem here is that it is approved, top-down. During the Bush years, our PPB was subtly taken over by right-wing reactionary bullies. They are never wrong. Making the matter worse, the City Commissioner best able to do anything about it, Dan Saltzman, continues to act like he’s been sedated.
A Pattern of Oppression and Incompetence…
We have no doubt that the majority of Officers on the PPB are decent people. Nonetheless, adding up the beanbag shotgunning of a subdues 12 year old girl, . . . and the murder of Chasse, . . . and the humiliations at the Dining Hall incident, and all of the suffering caused by ongoing ‘sweeps’ leaving homeless people in the rain without cover, . . . and the pattern of police not making their seized property available afterward, . . . and the very questionable moral integrity and/or mental health of at least one our of police captains, one must really ask:
Will anyone in a position of proper authority competently address this crisis of bullying within the Portland Police Bureau?
Where is City Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s leadership when it comes to the Police Bureau he is supposed to be overseeing? Recently he boldly called for a two week suspension of Chasse’s killers. The Police Union then called Saltzman’s weak response “outrageous.” They can do no wrong, the PPB.
Please bring some civilian accountability back to the PPB, Commissioner Saltzman, or turn the Bureau over to someone more competent before things get even worse!
If the problem is bad police union contracts (which it largely is, making meaningful discipline too difficult), then our City Council needs to address this in full.