This afternoon, eight protestors connected with Occupy LA (including myself) took up the LAPD's invitation to a basketball game aimed "To bring together the public, law enforcement and homeless communities in an effort to strengthen relationships and bring awareness to those in need." The game was between "The LAPD Young Gunz" - a basketball team from the LAPD that trains all year round - and "The Skid Row Allstars" - a group of players from various missions across downtown LA, who do not have a consistent presence as a team due to time, space and money constraints. This carefully staged PR-event featured a dinner for 500 homeless people, served by (gun-carrying) LAPD at the Midnight Mission on San Pedro in Downtown Los Angeles. We spoke beforehand to Community Organizer Bilal Ali who works with LA CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network), an organization that is actively fighting the Failed 'Safer Cities Initiative' established in September 2006 by the Los Angeles Police Department, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo in the Skid Row community. Although SCI was promoted as a means to improve public safety and bring additional homeless services to the community, police enforcement and a crackdown on petty offenses has been the most significant and consistent element of the initiative, and no additional homeless services have ever materialized. At the cost of six million dollars, 50 LAPD officers were deployed to a 50-square block area surrounding Skid Row (0.85 square miles) -- the equivalent of adding 470 new officers to the Rampart Division or 700 officers to the 77th Street Division in South Los Angeles, and bringing the numbers of police officers in Skid Row second only to that of Iraq, according to Ali. In addition, dozens of undercover narcotics officers were deployed to the same area, resulting in an unprecedented concentration of police resources in a neighborhood with relatively low rates of serious and violent crime. This has resulted in a massive increase in arrests around the Skid Row area for relatively 'minor' everyday activities which are the natural result of homelessness: sitting on the sidewalk, sleeping in a car, public urination, throwing a cigarette butt on the floor, spitting out gum. An ignored ticket, however minor, results in a warrant for arrest, and the removal of the perpetrator from the street and into jail. Despite the LAPD's saccharine and insincere claim that SCI is "to create an environment conducive to change so that those without hope today may find it tomorrow.", it seems clear that homelessness has effectively been criminalized by the Safer Cities Initiative at the cost of 6 million dollars a year. 6 million dollars the City seems willing to spend in order to remove the homeless from Skid Row, and continue upon its single-minded path of gentrifying Downtown Los Angeles without adequately addressing the homeless problem and finding solutions for those 15,000 people - 75% of whom are African-American - resident on Skid Row. This is further evidenced by the outrageous behavior of City Council and Mayor Villaraigosa in reassigning 1 million dollars in Federal Funding earmarked for Skid Row - to the multi-million dollar NFL-contracted global architecture firm Gensler, in order to entice them to move their offices downtown. While the action today was not specifically targeting the Midnight Mission, who have done some excellent work in rehabilitating many of the homeless suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness, it must be noted that only Missions and Shelters who support the Safer Cities Initiative receive Federal and State Funding, and are graced with the presence of the LAPD, who have a long and outstanding history of being anything but willing to "strengthen relations" and "bring awareness" to the plight of those resident on Skid Row. Here is the text of the Protestors Mic Check (video to follow): We, the 99%, do not accept the criminalization of the 15,000 homeless people on Skid Row. Shelter is a human right, an by shelter we do NOT mean jail cells under the so-called Safer Cities Initiative. The police presence on Skid Row is highest in the world, with a greater deployment of law enforcement than anywhere but Iraq. We want real community change, not empty public relations efforts. We are here in support of the RESIDENTS of Skid Row, and all those who are doing what they can despite the violent selective targeting of City Council and the LAPD. After mic-checking Chief of Police Beck as he stood in his basketball shorts ready to start the game, we protestors read out the text above, and were joined by the audience, one of whom gave us the finger, the majority of whom cheered us on with chants of "Skid Row! Skid Row!", and helped us mic check our statement - before we were told to leave, or face arrest.
Update 12/17/11 9:50pm:
"We, the 99%, do not accept the criminalization of the 15,000 homeless people on Skid Row. Shelter is a human right, an by shelter we do NOT mean jail cells under the so-called Safer Cities Initiative. The police presence on Skid Row is highest in the world, with a greater deployment of law enforcement than anywhere but Iraq. We want real community change, not empty public relations efforts. We are here in support of the RESIDENTS of Skid Row, and all those who are doing what they can despite the violent selective targeting of City Council and the LAPD."
followed by "SKID ROW SKID ROW" chanting by the audience