Poisonous fruit: Jeff Adachi on the right to housing without police harassment

Community forum for survivors of SRO home invasions by police Tuesday, April 19, 6 p.m., at POOR Magazine, 2940 16th St. #301, San Francisco

by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia

Southern trees bear strange fruit,/ Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,/ Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,/ Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

“Police should not be allowed to pick from the ‘poisonous tree,’” said Jeff Adachi, public defender for San Francisco. Adachi explained that the poisonous tree was a legal metaphor used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally.

He was referring to a recent series of cases he and his staff uncovered that included evidence obtained illegally from residents of poor people housing, aka single room occupancy (SRO) hotels in San Francisco. Hotels where me and my mama, Marlon Crump and almost every poor person I know has been police harassed, profiled and abused while in and/or outside of their homes, unnoticed and unchecked for years – until now.

“There is nothing more frightening, more scary, more terrifying than someone opening and coming through your door … unannounced.” – Marlon Crump in “Wrongful Use of Force,” POOR Magazine, 2007

As a child and young adult, I lived with my disabled mama through years of houselessness and severe poverty in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco. Periodically, we scraped together the cash to afford the daily rent of single room occupancy hotels. Every night we spent inside of the SRO hotels were spent in terror of what might happen if a police officer arbitrarily decided that we were “suspects.” Sadly, this ongoing trauma happened so often, it became oddly normalized.

When the images of undercover police officers illegally entering SRO hotel rooms without warrants, lying about their illegal entrances and then subsequently framing residents based on all kinds of “poisonous fruit” began to flood the corporate press, all us survivors of this ongoing abuse let out a deep collective sigh. I was personally reminded how much I appreciate Jeff Adachi and his staff of dedicated advocates, who have consistently spoken up for poor people and peoples of color, caught in a web of lies that leads to the apartheid-like U.S. prison industrial complex, filled with overwhelming numbers of brothers and sisters of color in poverty from colonized communities all across Pachamama.

“It was almost midnight. I was in my room, preparing to leave to pick up some food from the store with my food stamp card, when suddenly my door lock clicked open. The next thing I knew, I was staring down the barrels of numerous guns carried by a squad of officers yelling obscenities at me. This is an image that will be forever seared into my memory and one that still haunts me to this day.” – Marlon Crump in “Wrongful Use of Force,” chronicling the police terror he experienced by the SFPD

“This sort of pattern and practice leads to the breach of human and civil rights of residents,” Jeff continued, explaining the many ways that the U.S. justice system is a web of injustice for poor people who live in SROs, who, like all folks in poverty, living in or outside, are somehow perceived as undeserving of our basic constitutional right to privacy.

“What should be outlawed is the practice of hotel managers giving keys to police officers just because they ask for them.” This was Adachi’s unflinching response when Marlon related his own experiences of police abuse while sitting innocently in his hotel. Marlon was seriously traumatized, but the ordeal launched his own healing process of revolutionary legal action, art and media that he eventually memorialized in a chilling scene from the POOR Magazine theatre production, “Hotel Voices.”

“They (police) are saying its only eight bad cops, but that makes me wonder how many more times this has happened to folks. And the only reason these cops were seen is because they were caught on video,” Jeff said. He related experiences in courtrooms where judges have apologized to police officers when presented with evidence like this, telling them, “I’m sorry I have to dismiss this case.”

The depth of these kinds of judicial injustices and their subsequent impact on us po’ folk is the reason Marlon and I launched the Revolutionary Legal Advocacy Project (RLAP) at POOR Magazine. “Jailhouse lawyers outside of jail without a degree” is our motto. RLAP is a media and education project of PeopleSkool at POOR and is here to give folks in poverty who can’t afford lawyers some legal advocacy and tools to infiltrate an elaborate system that is set up to incarcerate us.

We have helped folks accused of a multitude of crimes of poverty how to be their own advocates and through Peopleskool to make media and art to be heard and eventually become educators themselves, who can teach lawyers, academics and college students how to redefine the knowledge held by us poor people schooled from lived, not just learned, experience, a canon we call poverty scholarship.

“One of the most important things for poor folks to do is write and speak about their experiences, just like you do at POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE,” Jeff concluded with deep praise for our poor people-led media, art and education projects. This was much appreciated by Marlon and me as Jeff is a powerful artist and filmmaker in his own right with working-class roots.

He went on to ask us if POOR Magazine could host a forum for folks who have experienced these kinds of illegal SRO home invasions. As Jeff spoke, my mind wandered to a dream of the end of poisoned fruit ingestion for us poor folks and that, instead, with the help of conscious advocates like Jeff, we could actually experience the taste of justice.

On Tuesday, April 19, at 6 p.m., POOR Magazine will be hosting a talk circle/community forum for families, adults and elder tenants in poverty who live in SROs and have experienced home invasions by police. Dinner and child care will be provided. Jeff Adachi’s office will be present if people want to give testimony. The location is POOR Magazine, 2940 16th St. #301, San Francisco, near 16th Street BART.

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is the consummate organizer, co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor with Tony Robles of POOR Magazine and its many offspring and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at deeandtiny@poormagazine.org. Visit www.tinygraygarcia.com and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.