sights & sounds

June 1, 2010

reclaiming the streets

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 12:56 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

From the NY Times; emphases mine:

Starchild is one of a handful of working men and women fighting a proposed city law that would make it illegal to sit or lie on public sidewalks in San Francisco for most of the day. Backed by the city’s Police Department and Mayor Gavin Newsom, the “sit-lie” law is being hailed by supporters as a weapon to combat aggressive behavior by the city’s myriad sidewalk dwellers.

But advocates of the homeless and some sex workers see it as a direct attack on the city’s weakest, as well as on the city’s own image as a tolerant refuge for live and let live.

Advocates for men and women of the night like Starchild say the proposed law has the potential to make their difficult lives — what with the fear of arrest, disease and occasionally dangerous clients — even more arduous.

Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for Mr. Newsom, a Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor, said the law was not meant to target any specific group, but to protect residents from harassment in neighborhoods like the Haight-Ashbury, the hippie-friendly enclave where groups of youths still congregate to drink, panhandle and smoke marijuana.

“It’s about unacceptable behavior,” Mr. Winnicker said, “and giving police another tool to deal with it.”

Leaving aside the utter absurdity of denying someone’s right to occupy a public space they’re forced to maintain with their own tax dollars1, the fact that cops are focusing on petty ‘infractions’ like loitering speaks volumes about their priorities – it’s completely disingenuous for supporters to pretend that this law has anything to do with public safety.

Police spend an inordinate amount of time harassing sex workers, homeless people, and street peddlers in upper- and middle-class areas; and far too little energy on going after violent criminals2 that terrorize people in low-income, brown communities. Why? Simply put: They care more about ‘cleaning up the streets’3 in middle-class communities than they do about keeping people safe in poor ones.

1. Although people often protest that ‘those people’ don’t pay taxes, they underestimate the state’s ability to squeeze tax dollars from even the poorest of people – many homeless people have jobs, and sex workers often have an additional job, as well. Every worker automatically has some amount of tax revenue deducted from her paycheck. Furthermore, anyone who so much as buys a tiny package of gum pays sales tax; and California has the highest sales tax rate in the U.S.

2. Unless you have a teensy amount of weed in your pocket – then they’ll zero in on you. But if you want to report an actual violent crime in a low-income, black or latino community? Forget it – the police will take their own sweet time arriving, and they might not even properly secure the crime scene and collect fingerprints when they do. Cops – they’re always there when you don’t want them; never there when you actually do.

3. This is basically ‘polite’ codespeak politicians use for using police force to violently clear out various ‘undesirables’ – sex workers, homeless people, panhandlers, and so on.

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