class warfare: houseless person arrested for resting near abandoned downtown building
This is a brief account of the detainment and arrest of a houseless person on the streets of downtown Portland, near the intersection of NW Hoyt St. & NW 4th Ave. This happened Thursday, September 23 @ 3PM.
Photos and commentary follow.
I was biking down the street at about 3PM, and noticed that there were four officers on horseback surrounding a houseless person. The black male-bodied houseless person was charged with trespassing while outside this abandoned building, where they were resting under an overhang to avoid the rainfall.
For about 20 minutes four white officers questioned the houseless person and made small talk. Officers were on the radio numerous times, relaying information and calling for backup.
At about 3.20PM a fifth officer arrived in a police cruiser. This officer pulled out an electronic fingerprinting device, and attempted to fingerprint and ID the houseless person. The houseless person did not have ID, and did not want to be fingerprinted. He put his hands underneath his legs, and was rocking back and forth, afraid of physical violence. He yelled "I'm the only black person here, help! Help! I haven't done anything wrong, I'm not a criminal." And he later yelled, several times "Rodney King! Rodney King!" To which one of the officers just chuckled and said "oh yeah, that's a good one."
Two officers on horseback left the scene (and spoke with me briefly before departing), leaving the other three officers to finish up. The officer that pulled up in the vehicle was not able to fingerprint the houseless person, and in turn wrote up a quick report and handcuffed them. The houseless person was arrested and escorted into the police vehicle at about 3.30PM.
The entire time I made sure to keep my distance from the police, on the other side of the street for the most part. I didn't engage them verbally, I simply took pictures with my camera phone. My goal was to simply document what was happening. Because this was a low-traffic street, not many people were around to witness the intimidation and harassment of the houseless person who was targeted by the Portland Police Department.
As I mentioned above, I had a brief discussion with two officers because they approached me to talk. One officer asked "so where are you going post this? Indymedia?" To which I responded "maybe, yeah, why?" The officer then said they "like reading what people have to say about us."
We continued talking for a few minutes, and I told them that I understand that they are doing their job by enforcing private property laws. And that I think it's a shame that they are forced to be engaging in class warfare for the rich by proxy. There are probably more valuable things the police could be doing!
One officer said "well, I don't think it's that dramatic." And I said that not everyone is able to own property. It's not fair that only the wealthy and that those with jobs are able to legally have a place to sit or sleep, etc. and that those without generally end up in prison as slave labor for private corporations because it's essentially illegal to be poor or unemployed. What are these folks supposed to do to avoid trespassing charges, float in the air?
The officer then said "if someone was sitting on your porch you'd have the legal right to call us too." And I said I would never call the police if someone was sitting on my porch because they were trying to get out of the rain, and that besides, this is an abandoned building! If the "owners" of this building really did call the police to have them remove that houseless person, well, that's fucked and obviously classist on their part. Couldn't they have just talked with this person face-to-face about their concerns instead of calling in armed bureaucrats who are well known to have executed houseless folks in the past?
The officer continued to tell me that Portland has better social services than most other cities, and that they are seeing an influx of poor folks during these bad economic times. The two officers who were speaking with me then went on their way and continued on their patrol route.
Overall, from my privileged perspective as a spectator, the officers were rather professional in handling the situation. But the fact that there was a "situation" in the first place is the problem.
The fact that the police are armed and dangerous and are charged with enforcing the laws of the rich at the expense of the poor is shameful and inhumane, and is ultimately only one facet of the class war that is waged on a daily basis in all sorts of ways big and small. It's a low intensity conflict that is always boiling, non-stop, right under the surface.
As long as property ownership translates into wealth and unfettered power and exploitation of the poor, then abandoned buildings will continue to sit vacant and empty while poor folks without access to housing are rounded up and sent to jail.
Even cars have more rights than living, breathing, human beings. How many parking spaces are there for cars all over the city? And poor folks can't even take rest on the unused margins of the cityscape without fear of altercations with the police.
And yet, somehow, for the average middle-class citizen these authoritarian power dynamics are all so easy to ignore so long as you're somehow able to keep your head down, work hard, and "make it."
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