Police protection for the homeless

Until police, who generally encounter unhoused people only when they’re assigned to evict and “sweep” them, begin protecting and serving them, these young men, Blake Simons and Delency Parham will fill in. As The People’s Breakfast Oakland, in the Black Panther tradition, they feed as many as 200 people in a weekend. “You can’t expect to have a revolution on an empty stomach,” says Simons. – Photo: Christie Hemm Klok

by Kheven LaGrone

Earlier this year, The New York Times published an Oakland article titled “As Homelessness Surges in California, So Does a Backlash.” The article opens:

“Insults like ‘financial parasites’ and ‘bums’ have been directed at them, not to mention rocks and pepper spray. Fences, potted plants and other barriers have been erected to keep them off sidewalks. Citizen patrols have been organized, vigilante style, to walk the streets and push them out.”

“California may pride itself on its commitment to tolerance and liberal values, but across the state, record levels of homelessness have spurred a backlash against those who live on the streets.”

According to the article, Oakland developer, Gene Gorelik, even exploited this anti-homeless backlash for media attention.

Such backlash often turns into violence from both within and outside the encampments. Since the residents are specifically being targeted for being homeless, Oakland needs a program specifically to protect them. This includes making such violence a hate crime (see “Hate Crime Laws Needed to Protect the Homeless,” Street Spirit, July 13, 2018). 

Oakland’s homeless are full citizens with the right to be protected by the police.

Special patrol units should patrol the encampments. They should build relationships with the people living in the encampments and make them feel protected. The police should identify and even remove any troublemakers. Spokespersons from the encampments should give regular reports directly to the City Council.

The mayor and police chief should announce this program in a press conference. This will let everyone know that Oakland is serious about protecting its most vulnerable residents.

The press conference should remind the public that homeless people are people too. Being homeless is not a crime. Oakland’s homeless are full citizens with the right to be protected by the police. Homeless people are not vermin to be “removed” or “cleared out.”

Homeless people also have the same rights to self-defense as anyone else. They might grow tired of being bullied. If the police won’t protect them, they may have to protect themselves. Oakland should prevent this fight because the homeless have the most to gain and the least to lose.

Kheven LaGrone, investigative reporter, activist, writer, artist and curator, can be reached at kheven@aol.com.