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Class Warfare

Skid Row Homeless Say LAPD Is Trying to Bully Them off Their Freshly Cleaned Turf

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Fri, Jun 22, 2012 at 4:30 PM
click to enlarge Home sweet home. - RUST O'LEUM
  • Rust O'Leum
  • Home sweet home.

On the fourth day of "Operation Healthy Streets" -- the city's attempt to power-wash Skid Row of its feces, syringes and lord-knows-what-else -- the regulars near 4th and Towne got into a tense standoff with the LAPD, according to Pete White with the L.A. Community Action Network.

White, a homeless advocate, claims that cops came by after the cleaning and told all those lingering on the sidewalk...

... that they had to move along. Police even formed a skirmish line against a line of shopping-cart people, he says.

A Twitter feed from Occupy Los Angeles, key ally to the downtown L.A. homeless, alleged that around 3 p.m., the LAPD was "making arrests for no apparent reason," "moving in to confiscate property" and "pushing homeless around." [Update, 4:32 p.m.: "Block party 4th and Towns right now come on down!" says Occupy.]

Unsurprisingly, the cops' version is a little less dramatic.

Sgt. Mark Wright at the Central Station says that because persons and their possessions are not allowed to sit stationary on the sidewalk between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. (according to Los Angeles Municipal Code), police officers did "go through the area" to look for violations.

Wright says cops asked nearby homeless people if stray baggage belonged to them. "If so, they allowed them to take it with them," he says. "But anything not claimed was disposed of."

The LAPD confirms that one arrest was made for "vandalism" after a suspect was caught "chalking."

According to White, the arrestee's name was Guerro, a well-known homeless man in the area.

This much-needed cleaning of the vile Skid Row streets has revived a legal debate about what rights the homeless population does and doesn't have. And in the end, as much as police would love to kick bums off the sidewalk every night, the city is not allowed to mess with them between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Why? Councilman Bill Rosendahl explained it well when addressing a similar debate over "Skid Rose" (har har) in Venice a couple months ago:

Due to two court cases, the Jones case and the Lavan case, the City's ability to enforce its laws has been significantly restricted:

On October 15, 2007, the City entered into a legally binding settlement, agreeing not to enforce the law prohibiting sleeping on the streets, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. until it builds 1,250 units of permanent supportive housing. The City entered this agreement after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Lawyers Guild (Jones v. City of Los Angeles), found that the law against sleeping on the streets amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment, noting there were thousands more homeless people in L.A. County than there were shelter beds. This applies citywide, meaning it is currently lawful for people to sleep on the sidewalks at night.

In a separate case, Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, last year, ACLU attorney Carol Sobel, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, and the Los Angeles Catholic Worker obtained a restraining order, prohibiting the City from seizing or destroying property from homeless camps in downtown's Skid Row. This means the City can only remove abandoned property. If someone claims that items in the streets are their personal belongings, the City cannot remove those items without risk of legal repercussions. The City is currently appealing this decision.

According to Rosendahl, of the 1,250 shelter beds that the city would need to make available to overcome the first ruling (with at least half on Skid Row), "several hundred more units" remain.

Then there's the tricky reality that L.A. homeless -- and Skid Row homeless in particular -- are, understandably, very territorial about the streets they've come to call home.

"This is their block. This is their community," says White of the area targeted by LAPD today. And we're guessing they're even more attached to it now that it's so nice-smelling and feces-free.

So is the LAPD planning to enforce daytime homeless restrictions more diligently now that the Row is all a-sparkle? (Much like the City Council is doing its darndest to keep Occupiers off the brand-new City Hall lawn and neighboring Civic Park.)

"Hopefully," says Sgt. Wright, echoing the general attitude of most downtown cops. LAPD Capt. Horace Frank tells Blogdowntown that "once [the cleanup] is done, we're not going to let it happen again. We're going to go back to enforcing the law." From that report:

Once the streets are cleaned, police will work to maintain them by ticketing and arresting those who are sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., or storing property there.

The L.A. Community Action Network and its people see this as "an attempt to place a moratorium on the Constitution in the 50-square-block area of Skid Row," in the words of spokesman Pete White.

Clearly, any move by the city to drive Skid Row lifers off their turf will be interpreted as a mass foreclosure to oppress the 99 percent. And they might just have a point there.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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