by Tony Robles
The late Manilatown and I-Hotel poet, activist and poverty scholar Al Robles wrote of the poor and the oppressed. He had seen firsthand how the poor, elders and the disabled were discarded.
He witnessed the forced eviction of elders from the International Hotel in 1977, where mounted police swung their clubs at the 3,000 people who locked arms in resistance to the police state, real estate profiteers and social designers who, in their quest to steal land that was already stolen, asserted that that piece of land was too valuable for poor people to be living on it.
Robles spoke of the community, the forgotten, the landless as coming together to “take back our lives.” Poor Magazine, in deep East Oakland, is a poor people-led, indigenous people-led revolution using art, media and healing to take back lives from systems meant to separate and criminalize.
In Poor Press’ latest book “How Not to Call the Po’Lice Ever” the authors – all poverty scholars from Poor Magazine who have dealt with homelessness, incarceration, the non-profit industrial complex, etc. – write of the systems designed to criminalize poverty and our very bodies, systems in which the police become the violence-wielding power that allows capital to flourish while human beings go neglected and abused.
In cities of extreme gentrification, such as San Francisco, lives have been lost for the act of being poor and “unsightly,” rules which have their genesis in the various “ugly laws” whose roots began in Europe and, ironically, began on this continent in San Francisco. A 911 call in 2016 resulted in the death of Luis Gongora Pat, an indigenous, houseless, Raza man in the Mission.
He is one of many who have lost their homes to real estate snakes and gentrification. “How Not to Call the Po’Lice Ever” examines the roots of the police in this country which, in Jeremy Miller’s essay “Historical Sketches on Policing,” begins with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
To many of our displaced, indigenous, houseless and traumatized brothers, sisters, . . . one phone call becomes a death sentence.
Miller’s piece gives specific examples of how laws were crafted and codified to sanction the police and its violence to uphold capitalism and white supremacy. Poor Magazine, through its healing circles – elephant meetings, elder councils and others – has a policy of “No po’lice calls ever.”
Too many of our displaced, indigenous, houseless and traumatized brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers and mothers and fathers have fallen to police violence. One phone call becomes a death sentence.
“No po’lice calls ever” is a vision of taking back our lives through healing, through our minds and our love for the land we stand on, that we believe no one owns. No po’lice calls, but calls to each other, our – as Luis J. Rodriguez termed – hearts and minds, which hold healing medicine and possibilities within, once we begin to trust them.
In the words of the book’s foreword, by Rae Leiner: “When we begin to think outside the very, very tight cage of its hold on our imagination of safety, we can shift the focus towards each other and what we need to feel safe in real time.”
Tony Robles is a housing rights advocate, poet and author of two children’s books and of “Cool Don’t Live Here No More: A Letter to San Francisco,” published in 2015, which former San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman calls “the generational memory of San Francisco.” Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.