OPINION “I have been arrested for 3 times in one day for sitting on the street in San Francisco” PoorNewsNetwork panhandler reporter and my fellow “poverty skolar” Papa Bear reported in our monthly community newsroom meeting last week.
As Papa Bear reported on yet another example of being arrested for the sole act of being poor, black and houseless in America, I received a text message from Berkeley that after a second round of seven hours of testimony against the proposal to put a sit-lie measure on the November ballot, it was approved anyway.
From Santa Monica to Santa Cruz, from Atlanta to San Francisco, cities across the US have been sliding towards fascism and the casual criminalization of poor people with the 21st century pauper law known as the sit-lie law.
As I have asked before — and I will ask again with the hope that readers will truly think this through: How did we all buy into the notion, without even realizing it, that emptiness equates with cleanliness, that public space should be empty to be clean and that public really doesn’t mean public anymore, if its filled with the “wrong” people?
When me and my poor Black/Indian mama dealt with houselessness and racist and classist profiling throughout my childhood, we were arrested multiple times for the sole act of sleeping in our car in certain neighborhoods, and eventually I was incarcerated for those poverty crimes — and no matter how many times I was arrested, cited, and incarcerated, my or my mama’s poverty didn’t go away. As a matter of fact, it got worse.
Berkeley, more than these other cities, is pretty ridiculous, because so many activists live there and work on issues of Palestine and immigration and anti-war and economic justice. It just shows the true colors of separatist, grant-guideline-fueled organizing that does not connect and conflate all of these struggles together.
As a poor indigenous mother who struggles on welfare and has been incarcerated and houseless for years for the sole act of being poor, my criminalization is completely connected to my migrant brothers and sisters fighting borders and to my sisters and brothers who struggle with colonization and globalization in the global south and beyond.
I cannot work against the false borders and occupation in Palestine and not work equally on the false borders and occupation by police and ICE in Mexico, Oakland, or Berkeley. I cannot work against the war in Iraq and not also work against the war on the poor.
But corporations and wanna-be corporations — not people — are in control of politricksters in these cities. So the racist and classist lies and mythologies about those dirty, crazy, and dangerous houseless people or young people of color flood the dialogue surrounding the issues of sit-lie, and gang injunctions, and increased police terrorism against poor folks of color. And the real issue — who defines what is public space and who can be considered the public? — is ignored.
I ask readers as this issue comes up on the ballot in Berkeley, as it did in San Francisco, to really think about the kind of world we are becoming, the ease with which we are thinking and incarcerating certain people and the borders and gates and locks we are putting in place that will eventually change our supposedly public and free society into smaller and smaller, gated, racist, communities of hate.
Tiny, aka Lisa Gray Garcia, runs POOR Magazine and is a poverty scholar and activist.