by Claudia Willen
San Francisco – Ronnie Goodman, a well known San Francisco artist who is experiencing homelessness, had his artwork confiscated by the City, and was then arrested and spent a night in jail. He was charged with a state anti-lodging law known as 647e, which is probably unconstitutional, and felony vandalism, which was then dropped for lack of evidence. All charges against him have been dropped.
Mr. Goodman’s artwork has been featured in a number of places, including City Hall and the San Francisco Public Library, on the walls of (now Mayor) Board of Supervisor President Breed’s office, and he was known for running a marathon and raising $40,000 for Hospitality House, a local charity.
There has been an uptick on giving out of misdemeanor lodging charges, based on documentation in outreach by the Coalition on Homelessness, as well as an increase in charging by the District Attorney over the past three months, according to the Public Defender’s Office. In addition, reports have been coming in of much more intensive police and Department of Public Works intrusions since April, and the ramping up of the Homeless Street Health Operation Center through the SFPD.
In addition, the judge in a Boise, Idaho, case ruled that removing street encampments without offer of shelter indicates that the California state law 647e that was used against Mr. Goodman appears unconstitutional. In addition, the city has a property policy negotiated by the ACLU and Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights that requires then to bag, tag and store unattended property, and prohibits city workers from confiscating attended property.
According to Ronnie Goodman: “I have had my belongings confiscated 10 different times. The city has taken my original irreplaceable linocuts – over 50 plates, all of my original artwork. When I went to get it back from the storage yard, it was never there.
“When I saw the DPW truck once again filled with my artwork and the last of my belongings, I ran and jumped on the truck to get it back. They charged me with a felony and arrested me. I never did get all of my belongings back.”
Statements from character witnesses for Ronnie Goodman:
“Ronnie Goodman is an accomplished and exhibited artist whose work sheds light and brings nuance to many of our society’s gravest issues – poverty, racism, homelessness, mass incarceration. In his work, these issues dynamically connect and educate the viewer through aesthetic excellence and emotion showing the humanity of what our society considers to be failures.
“Ronnie Goodman is a complex man whose life has been shaped by the criminalization of poverty and being Black. In sharing his journey through his art, he invites audiences to examine these issues not through a didactic political message, but through beauty. He has a rare gift to communicate emotional pain through images, which has come from years of his own tragic experiences shaped by the criminalization of poverty and being Black.
“But anyone who speaks with Ronnie knows he is not a violent man and knows he is a man who thinks about life deeply and thoughtfully and has no desire other than to peacefully continue his craft. I know I have learned a great deal from my interactions with him about the world and he has made me a better person because of it. I think without a doubt society is better off with his participation in the free world rather than being penalized and kept in jail.” – Christine Yoo, film director
“Ronnie Goodman is an important and talented artist whom I met when teaching art classes at San Quentin State Prison in 2008. We have worked regularly on artwork collaborations since his release.
“Despite the difficulties of a life of poverty his art remains inspired and inspirational. He has shared his talent with many groups working to make the lives of homeless people better and has always put the needs of our community first through his artwork as well as his giving spirit. I’ve invited Ronnie to speak to my classes at the San Francisco Art Institute where he has imparted a sense of the true value that art can have in speaking for the disempowered.” – Art Hazelwood, artist
“I have coached the San Quentin 1,000 Mile Running Club at San Quentin State Prison since 2005. From 2006 until his release on parole in 2010, I worked closely with Ronnie Goodman at San Quentin Prison. He was very focused on his running and his art at San Quentin and was very well thought of by everyone at the prison.
“When Ronnie paroled in 2010, I stayed in contact with him and tried to encourage and support his running and his art. Since paroling in 2010 Ronnie has run in six Dipsea Races, several half marathon races and various other races in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ronnie is very well liked and well thought of in the Local Running Community.
“A few years ago, he raised a significant amount of money for Hospitality House San Francisco while running the San Francisco Half Marathon. Ronnie is a good-hearted individual who is trying to do the best that he can under difficult circumstances. He has been homeless for most of his time in San Francisco since his release from San Quentin. Ronnie needs as much support as he can get from the local community and putting him in jail is not what he needs.” – Franklin Ruona
I met Ronnie Goodman in 2011 after he was paroled from San Quentin State Prison. He showed me his beautiful artwork and helped me become more involved with communities such as the formerly incarcerated and San Francisco’ homeless residents. He has contributed greatly to these communities, as well as to running and artistic communities.
His artwork currently graces the cover of the San Francisco Adult Probation Department’s extremely valuable free publication, “Getting Out and Staying Out: A Guide to San Francisco Resources for People Leaving Jails and Prisons.” Ronnie has exhibited his work in many locations and has reached a lot of people with his heartfelt, beautiful paintings and prints.
He recently had a solo exhibit at the main San Francisco Public Library. His work is also exhibited in the offices of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who met Ronnie when she first campaigned for supervisor and hosted an exhibit of his work and an opening reception in her office at City Hall after she became president of the Board of Supervisors.
Ronnie is a very gifted, creative individual who has struggled with many challenging issues, including poverty, homelessness, racism, hunger and injustice. He is a good person who likes people very much and reaches out to individuals and communities. I have gained much wonderful and valuable knowledge from him. He is interested in many subjects and loves books above all else! I met him in the San Francisco Public Library and I see him there often – he has included the SFPL in many of his artworks.
I believe Ronnie is a contributing member of our society who needs our patience, support and love to sustain him. I hope we can find a better solution to help him than imprisoning him after all the ordeals he has been through and continues to experience.
To learn more, contact Jennifer Friedenbach, firstname.lastname@example.org, at Coalition on Homelessness, 468 Turk St., San Francisco, CA 94102, 415-346-3740.