If you follow the news you know that Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa came out very strong in favor of Public Safety in the 2008-2009 budget, which includes increasing the LAPD by 1000 cops and decreasing other needed services. Unfortunately, nested within this Public Safety budget is a police budget of over 1.3 billion dollars (around one third of the City's total budget) that is using our so-called scarce city recourses to criminalize the poor and un-housed people – resources that could be used for real solutions to homelessness or the affordable housing crisis. This involves something called Quality of Life Policing; a policy that evolved partially out of a right-wing theory of zero tolerance policing called "Broken Windows" (Atlantic Monthly 1982, by James Q Wilson and George Kelling). It was made popular in New York in the 1990's by William Bratton, now Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. The basic theory is that police should address smaller offenses of "disorder," such as panhandling or loitering, and then violent crime will diminish. This Zero Tolerance/Quality of Life policing policy is a form of proactive law enforcement that focuses on a business-like "bottom line" of reducing crime and it is well known for violating civil rights.
In addition, our law-makers are now calling laws Quality of Life, including anti-vagrant laws that make it a crime to live in a vehicle or sleep in a park even though these acts may be unavoidable - done through necessity due to poverty, lack of social services, an extreme shortage of affordable housing, or other social-economic reasons. These Quality of Life laws are specifically used to remove poor people, youth of color, people viewed as inferior, vehicular-housed people, or street people from a neighborhood. New anti-vagrant Quality of Life laws in Los Angles make oversized camper vehicles illegal to park on city streets between 2 and 6AM and create Overnight [Permit] Parking Districts for certain housed people in these districts. Older laws used as anti-vagrant Quality of Life laws say that no vehicle should be parked on a city street for more than 72-hours, but is used to target only certain vehicles or certain people. One anti-poor Quality of Life law is the law that makes it a crime to live in a converted garage or “granny shack.” Examples of anti-youth Quality of Life law are curfew and truancy laws used to target youth of color or youth viewed as a “nuisance.”
Quality of Life Policing and Quality of Life Laws are especially popular in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification - like Venice, downtown Los Angeles, or Echo Park. This form of policing, law making, and law application distinctively does not protect or serve the people who most need to have a better quality of life. They do the opposite and should be re-named IneQuality of Life.
IneQuality of Life Policing uses considerable Police resources dedicated to following, tracking, and observing poor people; giving tickets to people who cannot pay the fines, who cannot easily make it to court, or who have done no other crime except to be poor, brown, or live without traditional housing. For many un-housed street people, tickets turn into warrants and many get arrested – often in sweeps, which is another elaborate use of police resources and horrible for the people being arrested. Arrested street people regularly lose everything when their possessions are thrown away (original birth certificates, family pictures, medication, section 8 vouchers). They plead "no contest" instead of "not guilty" to get off with time served, due to lack of legal representation and a lack of knowledge of their rights (National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), 2002), and they end up with a criminal record, probation, and stay-away orders for areas that have social services – like the Venice Family Clinic and Saint Joseph's Bread and Roses Café on Rose Ave. in Venice or Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.
It is a fact that this kind of intensive small offense ticketing, arresting, and incarcerating of un-housed street people costs more than housing them. The Safer City Initiative (SCI), which evolved in Los Angeles using the consulting assistance of the above-mentioned George Kelling, added 50 LAPD officers in Skid Row - an area of only .85 square miles. The estimated cost of just the 50-officer SCI Task Force in Skid Row is about million per year. The City budgeted .7 million out of the same General Fund for homeless shelter and services for the entire City. (see Policing Our Way Out of Homelessness? September 2007, Professor Gary Blasi, UCLA School of Law)
Our elected officials know this, but do not appear to care. They do nothing to stop the on-going propaganda campaign of fear that helps to justify these laws (sound familiar?) and, in fact, they even cater to the civilian hate mongers [who call them over and over] by creating more IneQuality of Life laws. While we, the taxpayers, are all paying for a system that does not work. IneQuality of Life Policing simply does not work to solve homelessness. It violates people's civil rights and can lead to costly litigation. It is helping to erode our US Constitution and "bottom line" - it is very expensive. Also, when an un-housed person has a criminal record, it increases the barriers to finding housing and shelter. Section 8 housing applications, including the section 8 buildings in Venice owned by Coldwater Management, require a credit check and a background check. If a person has a bankruptcy, a prior eviction, or a misdemeanor – they can pretty much forget it.
Now where are people supposed to go when there is no affordable housing or proper shelter system, when these laws are citywide and they have been given a criminal record using IneQuality of Life Policing? Should they live in jail or just die? As a matter of fact they do. People are dying homeless on our streets more often than we know, because it is not publicized, and increasingly poor people are being housed in jails and prisons while we are paying to build more. It is a vicious cycle of a growing fascist police state that the workers are funding - and the only true beneficiaries of this system are the big corporations and greedy land developers.
Except some of us do not want to live in a corporate fascist police state.
Still, so many people do not recognize all the signs that say "No Poor People Allowed" as being part of a fascist state. Maybe the chem. trails really are turning us all into mindless robots controlled by the state. Or maybe we all just need to turn off the TV more, care for each other more, chant more, and find peace within. And there is value in holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome,” but I do believe people have to struggle to be aware of and resist the petty fear and intolerance we are being conditioned with. Lets help each other to remember that all human beings deserve the basic rights of healthy food, decent shelter, and freedom of movement. Write, call, tell the City Council, the Mayor, and everyone else to oppose IneQuality of Life laws and policing. Basic rights should not just belong to the chosen few or the high-class criminals who can afford a good legal defense. That is why we call it Human Rights - not Rights for the Few who have property, power, and privilege.