Monday, July 28, 2008

A Lesson on Power: Lie Big and Hit Hard.




Apparently, the city is bringing charges against the Camp4Unity Fifteen, pictured above. Mike Smith, also an arrestee, was handled separately by an ACCESS van and was unable to appear in the post-bust group photo.

Over June 8-9, about a hundred fifty people camped overnight at City Hall in protest of the Nickels administrations' relentless sweeps of homeless encampments. Since last May, the City has systematically attacked homeless campers, routinely throwing away the blankets, survival gear, and personal possessions of those who often have nowhere else to go.

2,631 people were counted outside of an overextended shelter system last January, a fifteen percent increase over last year. To accommodate those displaced by the city's campaign of criminalization and harassment, the City added twenty new shelter beds and hired a few outreach workers to offer pathetically inadequate "services" to the hard cases outside.

Despite nearly a year of strong activism by a variety of organizations, including the Church Council of Greater Seattle, the Interfaith Taskforce on Homelessness, Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, Columbia Legal Services, Jobs with Justice, and the Real Change Organizing Project, the Nickels administration has steadfastly held to their program of aggressive campsite clearances. The City Council, led in this matter by Human Services Committee Chair Tim Burgess, has refused to address the concerns of homeless advocates or demand accountability from the Mayor's Office.

So, on the Morning of June 9th, fifteen clergy, homeless people and their advocates, and student and labor allies walked out onto Cherry Street with a tent and refused to move. The event was one of those choreographed sorts of CDs where everyone knows exactly what's going to happen before it does. We were arrested after three warnings, handcuffed and loaded into a bus, and released to the sidewalk at West Precinct in less than an hour. The official RCOP video is here.

We achieved our objective, which was to get tons of press. At a time when the media was already growing more critical of the Mayor's policy, we gave them a big fat hook for their stories.

The Mayor and the City Attorney's office took their time deciding what to do with us. We weren't even sure we'd been booked. Apparently we were. Reverend Rich Lang was the first of us to receive any notice that charges have been brought. Today, he received his summons to appear in court on August 12th to face charges of Pedestrian interference (12A.12.015). There is an additional charge we weren't warned of when we arranged the civil disobedience action with police. This was filed under the statute relating to Obedience to Peace Officers, Flaggers, and Firefighters (11.59.010). Together, charges carry a threat of a $5,000 fine or 365 days in jail. The other fourteen of us will no doubt get our notices in the coming days.

The charges themselves are interesting. I sort of assumed that the pedestrian interference statute was about jaywalking and that sort of thing. Maybe at some time in the past it was. Now it's about controlling homeless people and suppressing dissent.
SMC 12A.12.015 Pedestrian interference.

A. The following definitions apply in this section:

1. "Aggressively beg" means to beg with the intent to intimidate another person into giving money or goods.

2. "Intimidate" means to engage in conduct which would make a reasonable person fearful or feel compelled.

3. "Beg" means to ask for money or goods as a charity, whether by words, bodily gestures, signs, or other means.

4. "Obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic" means to walk, stand, sit, lie, or place an object in such a manner as to block passage by another person or a vehicle, or to require another person or a driver of a vehicle to take evasive action to avoid physical contact. Acts authorized as an exercise of one's constitutional right to picket or to legally protest, and acts authorized by a permit issued pursuant to the Street Use Ordinance, Chapters 15.02 through 15.50 of the Seattle Municipal Code, shall not constitute obstruction of pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

5. "Public place" means an area generally visible to public view and includes alleys, bridges, buildings, driveways, parking lots, parks, plazas, sidewalks and streets open to the general public, including those that serve food or drink or provide entertainment, and the doorways and entrances to buildings or dwellings and the grounds enclosing them.

B. A person is guilty of pedestrian interference if, in a public place, he or she intentionally:

1. Obstructs pedestrian or vehicular traffic; or

2. Aggressively begs.

C. Pedestrian interference is a misdemeanor.
The second, unanticipated, charge, is about gratuitously upping the ante. It's one of those tools that are used to make charges more serious when that might be useful. Here's how this one reads.
SMC 11.59.010 Obedience to peace officers, flaggers, and firefighters. No person shall wilfully fail or refuse to comply with any lawful order of any peace officer, duly authorized flagger, or firefighter, who is at the time discharging the duty of regulating and directing traffic or pedestrians. (RCW 46.61.015)
That's it. Short and sweet. I suppose the first crime was to dissent by carrying a tent out into the street, and the second was to fail to stop dissenting when threatened with arrest and asked to stop.

Not long ago, I described the Mayor's homeless sweeps policy in terms of Joseph Goebbels' notion of the Big Lie, and quoted the Nazi propaganda minister himself.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
A few months ago, when I wrote that blog entry, it crossed my mind that we had not yet arrived at the entire equation. In time, I thought, it will come to this, but it would probably be awhile. This is, after all, Seattle. I was wrong about the second part.

Why now? My guess is that the Mayor's Office is looking at Nickelsville, a survival encampment protest planned for sometime around the end of August, and thinking this might be an excellent time to make an example of some dissenters. Whatever they're thinking, we'll make the most of it. Let's play jujitsu.

3 comments:

Sally said...

1. "Aggressively beg" means to beg with the intent to intimidate another person into giving money or goods.


Gee, that might cover Paul Allen's contacts with the City. Can we have him arrested?

Bill said...

Hmmm. As a witness to events that day, I do recall seeing a newspaper editor carry a tent into the street. Of course, what followed was that police stopped traffic, blocked it in such a way that they impeded cross traffic on 4th street, and eventually diverted it by having a truly clueless truck driver to back up. The police blocked traffic almost immediately as I recall. I don't recall a single vehicle crossing to the actual location of the tent in the street and that vehicle being blocked by the tent. This makes me conclude that traffic was blocked by police, not demonstrators. Of course, police will say they were protecting the demonstrators from being run over. This would presume that Seattle drivers, likely texting on one cell phone and holding an MP3 in the other hand would not see protesters in the street and there would have been a conviction by death of the "law breakers." Police couldn't have that. I am slighting of course the reality that demonstrators face, which is possible jail time. It is an expected salvo by a Mayor who thinks he is tough and has not had the courage to prove that earlier in life by doing something like serving to defend his country. No, now he has the title of local commander-in-chief so he will pick up the red phone, will command his local troups, and will charge his prosecutors to maintain the peace. After all, those in Laurelhurst were intimidated by a tent in the street, and who knows, maybe the next target for protest is YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. I still think this is our only near-term hope; that is, get Obama elected, all-of-us write him to appoint Nickels as ambassador of plastic control for nations south of us, and send him into villages in mosquito infected areas commanding a platoon of insecticide bearing privates who will retrieve plastic bags from rain forests so he can feel the true nature of having power.

Tim Harris said...

Damn Bill. That's poetry.

Frankly, I don't mind going to jail for awhile if it means that Nickels takes a hit next election for sending the Director of Real Change to prison. Fatboy's gotta go down.