Talk to them.
Last night my good friend Rena and I were driving down J Street coming back from a Kings game late at night—more on that later— and we observed two police officers on bicycles stopped in front of a homeless man sleeping in front of a business. They had their flashlights shining on him. By the time we pulled over and parked and were walking down the street toward the police. They were already riding their bikes down the street toward us.
“What was that for? Why did you go over there?” we asked, politely.
“He is not allowed to sleep there. He has to leave.” One of the officers said annoyed, but polite.
“Where is he supposed to go?” I asked.
“Don’t know, but he can’t stay there.”
For the next thirty minutes we stood there and talked to the two officers about the homeless in Sacramento, the former tent city, the business owners and their concerns with the unsightliness of homeless people, defecating and urinating on property, the drug paraphernalia, Food Not Bombs, Loaves and Fishes, Safeground, Housing First, the Sacramento city council and how some of the council are indeed Walmart “employees”(having received generous donations for their campaign—namely Steve Hanson and Kevin Johnson) and how they, the police, are caught in the middle. The homeless are not an issue that should divide us, we are all affected, I said. The business owners don’t want them downtown. The city council doesn’t want tent city. The elephant in the room is the new arena. What about the new arena and all the homeless downtown? If not for humanitarian reasons, those with deep pockets maybe want to help us activist help the homeless so that their city can be appealing. The officer I talked to said, off the record, that he agreed with tent city when it existed and that it worked better than what is going on now because at least all the homeless were in one place and and they could deal with the problems better. He said that they, the police, would gladly drive them out there to get out them out of the city. I said maybe the old arena can be used for the homeless. He talked about how it is a vicious cycle of rounding them (the homeless) up and locking them up for drunkenness and then they are right back on the street again and all the time is spent writing time consuming reports that have to be written. I said that the city council members should be thankful that there are activists willing to take on the task of helping get the homeless into permanent shelters and off the streets either through Safeground or Housing First or the Winter Sanctuary. He said that the goal of the surrounding business owners and city council is to “clean up” Cesar Chavez park. I asked him about why the police had recently cracked down on Food Not Bombs at the park and he said because Food Not Bombs draws more homeless to the park and that there is increasingly a mess left and that Food Not Bombs needs a permit and that the food is not safe. He thought we were serving tuna sandwiches. I told him it was tofu and not tuna and that FNB has been there for 21 years and that FNB exists all over the country and has been feeding the homeless without a permit for decades. He did not know this. He said the business owners want to get the homeless out of the park and make it nice for visitors. I said that a public park is meant for everyone, even the homeless. He then assured me that for now they the police have been instructed to back off on the issue of Food Not Bombs and so I smiled, but said nothing. I was happy that as activists we were able to come together to help the homeless continue to get their vegan meals on Sundays at the park. So this Sunday at the park things should be incident free. I will be there just to help make sure this happens. These two officers, by the way, are big admirers of Brother Carter. “He’s great!” they said.
The thing I realized was that when you talk to the police as individuals you find out who are the good ones with good intentions and who are the bad ones who have lost their sense of humanity. The officer admitted to me that he has to turn his emotions off to a certain degree because he has been doing this for 17 years. I told him that I was a public school teacher for the last 17 years and I have not turned off my emotions. He said that if the people (activists) don’t act right and are hostile then they are going to respond similarly. And so we exchanged names and phone numbers and we both learned that it’s harder to be a jerk on either side after you’ve had a conversation. He said he learned a lot talking to me.
I strongly believe that we need to work together on this issue—homelessness– because it is just going to get worse considering the inherent injustice of our modern capitalist system. Until we consider as a city, state and nation concepts such as caring economics , conscience capitalism or a true socialist-capitalist economy like that of Sweden with true gender equality, we, the 99%, are going to just keep going in a downward spiral. Why can’t business owners get creative in helping the homeless and thereby help themselves instead of just calling the police. In Costa Rica, there are no homeless. If a person “squats” on your property, it is your duty as a homeowner or business to do something about it and help that person. We need to address the issue seriously down at the city council. Last week, City councilmember, Steve Hanson denied that there was any kind of police crackdown. An agitated activist called him a liar. Based on my conversation with the police officer it is evident that Hanson was lying. Meanwhile the nights are getting colder and people are getting colder and are hungry and homeless and harassed because the city council ordinance says the homeless cannot be on public or private property. Things have to get worse before they can get better. We haven’t hit rock bottom. But I learned last night that these two cops appeared to care about the homeless and the older officer I was talking to said that it is difficult to tell people to move along. He seemed to want a solution. He likes the idea of Safeground and Housing First as remedies. Incidentally, these two remedies need not be merged but can coexist for different homeless populations. We ended the conversation by saying how beneficial it was to talk to each other and he said “to learn from an educated person how the other side felt.” I told him I was a teacher and had a law degree. When he said this I realized though that I looked educated and that other activists who have more of what I would call a “grunge appearance” might not look intelligent or educated. This is unfortunate because again people are being judged by their appearance. Many homeless are educated and former employees. I gave him a flyer about the next homeless benefit at Luna’s café on November 15th. I told him about individual homeless people, their names and why they were on the street. I told him about one woman who is homeless who used to watch my kids when they were young and after her mother died she ended up homeless because she is slightly developmentally disabled and incapable of taking care of herself. She has been “on the concrete” as she put it for five years now. A woman, alone, on the street. This is hideous and disgusting to me in a country with so much money and resources. He asked me why I was an activist for the homeless and I said because it gets cold and hot out there and I can’t imagine being in their shoes and they are hungry and I can’t help but care. He said he felt the same way and that what he sees breaks his heart. So I am sharing this with you all so that when we go out there to defend the rights of the homeless or any human rights issue, we don’t not yell things like “fuck the police!” We must talk to them like individual human beings and be civil if we wish to be treated like individual human beings and have them be civil toward us. We won’t win them all over, but if we win over the majority then that’s enough. The police do not have to be the enemy. They are the 99% like us. We are all brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, cousins and friends. See you out at the park Sundays to support Food Not Bombs. See you at the next Safeground benefit show at Luna’s café on November 15th 7-11pm. Please buy a the homeless newspaper “Homeward” in front of the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op or in Old Sacramento or wherever you see a homeless person selling the paper. Paper costs $1. Read the paper and share it with others. Let’s work together in the city, citizens and public officials to help the least of our brothers and sisters in need. Many blessings and blessed be! With Gratitude, Jenn Rogar