The city of Tucson, Arizona is no friend to the homeless. After years of coming up with new ways to harass and arrest them, an amazing group of activists sprung into action and did what many would consider the unthinkable.
John Cooper, a member of the activist group “Occupy Public Land” explains:
We started a 501 (c)3 in the wake of the Occupy Movement called Occupy Public Land. Part of OPL’s mission is the protection of the rights of homeless people. OPL started a program called Safe Park, where we lived outside and used pro se litigation to force the city to treat homeless people fairly.
Tucson didn’t respond well. Rather than work with OPL to find a solution to the homeless issue, they instead battled them with a series of ordinances aimed at making the lives of the homeless and the people acting on their behalf as miserable as possible.
They closed the public parks from dusk til dawn, and declared benches, picnic tables and trash receptacles on adjacent sidewalks part of those parks, leaving only the sidewalk for people to sleep on.
They painted black lines on the sidewalks to draw a line the homeless weren’t allowed to cross.
Under city law a person is allowed to sit or lay on a public sidewalk to express their 1st amendment rights of expression as long as they leave five feet unobstructed and stay eight feet from any business. To make things difficult for the less-fortunate, the city imposed a “3-B” rule that says a person on the sidewalk may only possess a bedroll, backpack and beverage. Cops used the rule to further harass people, declaring their property “abandoned” if left unattended and confiscating it.
One of the activists was arrested for crossing the black line to dispose of garbage in a trash receptacle.
John Cooper and the co-founder of OPL, Jon McLane, sued the city of Tucson in federal court for violating people’s 1st, 4th and 14th amendment rights.
And they WON!
9th District Court Judge David Bury issued a ruling barring the city from the following actions:
- 1) confiscate property on the basis of the backpack, bedroll, and beverage (3-B) policy implemented 1-24-2014, or confiscate property without a good faith belief that the property is actually abandoned.
- 2) the Government may not arrest anyone on the basis of the black line painted on the sidewalk without first posting signs which clearly notify the public of the purpose of the black line and the time period that the portion of the sidewalk considered by the Government as park closes and when it is open to the public.
- 3) the Government may not arrest any individual for obstruction of the sidewalk, notwithstanding the amount of property an individual has on the sidewalk, unless the individual fails to leave a 5 foot path, fails to remain more than 8 feet from any business entrance, or otherwise obstructs or impedes pedestrian traffic.
The entire ruling can be read here.
John Cooper schools the Tucson Police in how the law REALLY works in this amazing video.
I had the pleasure of chatting a little with Cooper, who explained what was going on just before he showed up, court order in hand, to take the cops to school and protect the homeless:
The issue on the vid (sic) was the police attempting to arrest people for being within ten feet of a city bus bench, but the rule violates the court order as the judge stated the city cannot enforce any rule which closes the sidewalk without posting signs notifying the people of the closure.
The police, as usual, think they are all-knowing and needed to have the law explained to them, which Cooper does in an educated and articulate manner that is sure to make you smile:
The look of dismay on the faces of those cops as they realize they won’t be ruining anyone’s day is a win not only for OPL and the homeless, but for humanity itself.
Way to go, Cooper.
Occupy Public Land won’t be stopping anytime soon.
OPL is an amazing entity. Their project called “Safe Park” works within the law to provide homeless people a safe place to sleep and services 24 hours a day. Their website, safeparktucson.org, describes the organization perfectly in their mission statement:
Mission: Change laws, policies, and the perceptions that perpetuate the criminalization of homeless, refugee, or undocumented statuses, and give people the tools necessary to transition out of poverty with no strings attached.
I asked Cooper if they had any plans to expand outside of Tucson. He replied:
We have planned to expand to Phoenix and Flagstaff, as those cities have a huge problem with governmental harassment of homeless people. Once that is done, sometime in 2016 we plan on hitting Florida and Texas.
Bravo. If you’d like to help OPL and Safe Park, please visit their website and Facebook page to see what you can do to assist these genuinely excellent people help those society has turned their backs on.
Featured Image: Screengrab from YouTube