Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Peace Camp 2010 Defendants in Court~~ Homeless Not Helpless

Trial Begins for Six Peace Camp 2010 "Lodgers"

dateline ~ Santa Cruz ~ Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day Two for six Peace Camp 2010 survivors: legal agents are still picking jurors and their understudies.

The Honorable Judge John Gallagher predicted this Lodging trial could take up to two weeks. Attorney Ed Frey is representing himself and five other brave, persisting defendants; one person is MIA and the four others are stuck sitting all day, backs against the courthouse wall to Judge's left, watching these proceedings.

California Superior Court of Santa Cruz County, Dept 2, 701 Ocean St. Not a lot revealed so far. The trial resulted from last summer's ongoing demonstration and protest over anti-sleeping laws used to render homeless people into criminals, for sleeping at night. After more than a month, Santa Cruz County's Sheriff was pressured to "clean up" the demo-campers, and so he authorized ticketing sweeps. Groups of Deputies came, first with City of Santa Cruz sleep ban citations, then with California's quit broad lodging law, 647(e).

The demonstration changed but did not go away until weeks into this sudden criminalization in the very place locals gather to redress their government, to inform the general public, and to share their grievances: the lawn and walkway, under the US and California flags, in front of the Courthouse. Next door to the County Government Building.

As I noted earlier somewhere, a Necessity Defense will be allowed for this "lodging" trial. Necessity, related to homeless defendants in California, is a strictly defined list of qualities required to be met (proved), to demonstrate one has NO other sleepy-time recourse besides sleeping outside (in public). This trial will likely have five necessity defense presentations.

In the past three decades, the growing body of clinical evidence regarding harm resulting from a person not getting enough sleep has been glossed over or prevented outright, in courtroom efforts I've witnessed over three decades, and in general around these selectively administered anti-sleeping laws.

In my view, one of the hurdles is trying to get the judges and commissioners, or occasionally a jury, to UNDERSTAND we are not concerned about a one-time, middle-class outing, here; like say boy scouts camping with their telescopes, or Faire merchants guarding their wares and their generators or stoves or tents along the riverside before the show.

I get concerned about this TREND of making criminals out of individuals, groups and throngs of people who's every single day is at best ten times more difficult and critical and immediate than most folks', and who's nights are a rigged crap shoot of options for the thirty people in every thousand (around here) of sleeping on somebody's couch or back porch, or of getting rolled and robbed in their sleep by a lost drunk or crushed in a municipal recycling truck. Or committing suicide because they have become isolated for way too long. Yes, I am saying about thirty known-to-be homeless people out of each thousand manage to come up with an alternative to hiding all night.

I become concerned when I meet the huge numbers of women in their 40s who lost their stable housing simply because they were faced with urgent medical needs but had no kind of insurance at their jobs, forced to hide now; or upon seeing already disabled people who cannot round up a landlord and all the trimmings by themselves, despite their fixed incomes, thus being put at greater risk because we shun them at every turn.

I'm trying to say for every "bum" and "ingrate on the sidewalk"we experience, there are hundreds of other folks (who also happen to be homeless) whom you'd recognize as fellow humans if you would only see them: going to work, caring for their kids, studying for their midterms at the cafe with a laptop just like housed dudes, fixing their friend's bike, paying their taxes, and trying to clean things up 'round about themselves, no matter where they land.

Our government could not get away with this total failure of social policy -- creating ever greater homelessness while our banks empty our homes they are not able to sell -- if we were not parties to it's creation. It's called tossing the baby out with the bathwater. It is most certainly NOT Christian to blame a whole sub-population for the actions of a few jerks, whether those jerks are the golden-parachute banking crooks or the hustling street rejects who act out our shadow fears: homeless does not mean "bum", homeless does not mean "thief."

Maybe if we could all stop using the word homeless as a euphemism, and start naming the behaviors that we actually fear or loath, our own eyes could acclimate to notice homeless PEOPLE? But I digress. Remember the movie, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (Memory wants me to believe it featured a young Jane Fonda, but...)

Struggling around this latest cattle prod, the Lodging Law, alongside the City of Santa Cruz's camping/sleeping ban, and just like many new municipal and national ordinances across the land exhausts everyone involved. A little widespread integrity could help us cure these efforts at legal trickery as banishment and selective enforcement, with it's dishonest underpinnings. We are leaving innocent people to suffer and die in the dark so we don't have to face our own flawed assumptions, just to forestall our collective discomfort for all the wrong reasons.

We need to become more aware of our own and other people's human rights.

It is, simply, wrong to make sleeping illegal. None of the pop excuses hold water, they're just exhortations of fear. The more US Americans get downsized while we ignore and deny our role as citizens in our own economic sinkhole, the sooner what I'm saying will become self-evident.

Meanwhile, here's hoping it's not YOUR uncle who gets his pack stolen because he fell asleep, losing YOUR phone number again, and here's hoping it's not YOUR granny who gives up and goes to sleep for the last time, in the muddy river tonite.

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