Discriminatory Enforcement of the Sit/Lie Law in SF

A year ago San Francisco passed the notorious Sit/Lie law, which makes it illegal to sit or lie on a sidewalk between 7am and 11pm. As written, it forbids sitting on the curb while waiting for the bus, sitting on a chair outside your house during a yard sale, or sitting on the ground to repair a flat tire on a bicycle.

Why would such a silly law even be proposed? Why, to further harass homeless people, of course. The law is intended to be applied unevenly. And this is of course what is happening.

On December 11th I was walking through the Upper Haight. This is the neighborhood of San Francisco that had an alleged “emergency” of assaults and harassment by homeless “thugs” that required a new, unconstitutional law to stop it. I was pleasantly surprised to find a band playing from within a recessed entranceway. Their keyboardist was outside, sitting on a chair on the sidewalk (illegal). A group of passers-by stopped and listened, and some of them sat down as well (also illegal). When I sat down we had five (5) people blatantly violating the Sit/Lie law at 1:30pm in the afternoon:

Five musicians in an entranceway, one keyboardist on the sidewalk, with an open guitar case.
A woman leans over to pet a dog in the lap of one of three audience members seated on the sidewalk.

Perhaps, you might be saying, the police weren’t been discriminatory in their enforcement of this law. They just happened not to be there when this crime occurred. Not so. I saw a beat cop approach, and was able to snap a shot before he disappeared into the distance, having not even paused at the gathering on the sidewalk:

This is the “discretion” San Francisco has given its police – this is the “tool” they “need”. They apply the law selectively against homeless people, in blatant violation of the US Constitution.

Chris Jones and the Criminal Neglect of the SFPD

On Tuesday night, December 6th, the SFPD raided and destroyed the Occupy SF encampment. As a side note, related to the main story, there were 3 or so firefighters there – there was some piece of SFFD equipment holding up lights to further illuminate the already well-lit plaza. I talked briefly with a couple of the firefighters, and told them that their participation was shameful. One of them replied sarcastically, “Oh, I feel bad now”. My opinion of SFFD dropped significantly. But events the next night would raise my opinion again.

#OccupySF Walked into a crazy situation. 70+ riot cops marching into the GA.
6:29 PM, Dec 7th

On Wednesday evening, December 7th, people came back to Bradley Manning Plaza/Justin Herman Plaza to have a GA (General Assembly meeting). I came by a little bit late, and arrived to see 7 columns of 10 riot cops each positioned in the walkway (and more cops elsewhere) while people were gathered in the plaza. I came to be focused on a small aspect of that evening’s events, which I think is rather telling of our current situation. I tweeted from time to time, and include some of those tweets here to illustrate the events and mark them precisely in time.

The cops marched into the plaza and circled a small portion of it – about a third or a quarter. It seems that there was a little bit of time for people to decide whether to stay or not. One of my friends decided to stay in the plaza, willing to risk arrest for the sake of upholding our basic First Amendment rights to assembly and free speech. About 40 or so people and one tent were within police lines for over 2 hours during the ensuing standoff. It should be noted that lots of other people, including myself from time to time, were in the plaza, but outside of police lines – the police did not have enough numbers to surround the entire plaza.

At the edges there was quite a bit of verbal confrontation. Apparently Chris Jones was sitting on the raised embankment – for the most part cops were on or in front of that embankment. However, where he was, as Chris Jones points out in this video of the police attack, the police were standing inside the embankment. Nevertheless they had a problem with his position. He had a sign that said “Bill 1867 = George Orwell’s 1984”. Bill 1867 is also called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, in the words of the ACLU, “would authorize the president to send the military literally anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial…. No corner of the world, not even your own home, would be off-limits to the military.” That’s rather important to be protesting, and it adds a certain tang to the following events.

#OccupySF Two roughly arrested. One’s name is Christopher Jones. People are yelling for a medic or 911. REMEMBER: 415-285-1011
6:50 PM, Dec 7th

I was right in front of the police lines, keeping as close a distance to the cops as I could, and doing my part as one of the white people regularly yelling at police officers. To the right of me was a sudden scuffle, and two people were pulled over the embankment, dragged through the grass, and each jumped on by several cops. It looked pretty damn rough given the number of cops, the distance from the crowd, and the lack of urgency. I have to admit that I didn’t pay a lot of attention right away, but many of the people nearby were yelling about one of the arrestees. He was still lying prone on the ground a couple minutes after being zip-tied, even though the other arrestee seemed in reasonably good shape and had shifted to sitting up.

People started yelling for medical attention, for a medic, for 911. The cops stood around impervious. Eg:

SFPD cops stand around impassively as Chris Jones is lying on the ground shaking

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Occupy Your Mind

You might think from my lack of posting that not much has been going on. On the contrary, so much has been going on, and there’s so much I want to write, but I have been utterly busy in this extraordinary historical moment. This is a revolutionary time. What seems possible changes almost day-to-day. Politics are quite literally unpredictable.

I recently read a great account of a timid liberal’s changes through participation in Occupy Oakland. A homeless man below tells how Occupy Atlanta has saved him from crack addiction.

The Occupy movement has changed me, too. At first, I took an observer’s stance. A couple of weeks in, I joined the October 5th march around the city – a march that was extremely positive and open, without any feelings of fear or aggression. The police behaved well, blocking traffic to help the march (which I believe was unpermitted).

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Robert Reich at Occupy San Francisco

Robert Reich spoke at Occupy SF on Wednesday, October 19th, 2011. He presents a left-liberal point of view, setting out the premise that progressives can save capitalism. I disagree with much of that, but am impressed to see a liberal icon out on the streets with a megaphone, expounding on economics and the moral nature of the Occupy movement to ordinary people.

There’s quite a bit at this article at the Daily Kos, but I’ve transcribed a section of question and answer below.

Transcript

Military spending

This extraordinary – the doubling of defense spending after 9/11, and what is that being done to the economy? Well, I’ll tell you, what it means is, we don’t have the money for schools, we don’t have the money to fix our roads and bridges and public transportation, we don’t have the money for healthcare, we can’t do what we need to do in this country. And if I were asked, you know, what would one of my planks be in terms of change, I’d say, at least, at least, cut in half the defense budget.

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The San Francisco Sit/Lie Law and the Hypocrisies of History

Wanted: (freedom-loving scofflaws, community-minded reprobates, righteous ne'er-do-wells) Harvey B. Milk, Sit/Lie Rebel since 1974 FOR: Social Use of Public Space, Enjoying Neighborhoods and Neighbors, Celebrating the City, Sharing Public Space with Everyone, Violation of the Sit/Lie Law

Harvey

Yesterday, May 22nd, would have been Harvey Milk‘s 81st birthday. In San Francisco people held rallies and celebrations.

I and other activists against the recently passed “Sit/Lie” law held another Sidewalks are for People day. The Sit/Lie law makes it illegal to sit or lie on any public sidewalk between 7am and 11pm. It’s illegal to sit on the curb while waiting for the bus, it’s illegal to put a folding chair on the sidewalk to enjoy the sun and greet your neighbors, and it’s illegal to sit down if you’re holding a sidewalk sale, even if you’re a child running a little lemonade stand.

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Boycott Bottled Water Graffito in SF

One great thing about San Francisco is that you get used to finding things on the street. This morning, for example, on the way to a friend’s house I came across a box of books, and took a couple for myself, including A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.

You also find graffiti, much of it lame, some of it great. This piece is a black and red (heh) stencil, around a San Francisco Water Department access panel, poetically enough:

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