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Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Cold City September Response

On Friday, September 28, 2018, the city of Santa Rosa executed a surprise group eviction and whirlwind of destruction of about 20 trailers and RVs and 30 tents at Challenger Way. About a dozen police worked the streets with tow trucks, a flatbed, a hazmat truck, and a bulldozer. Activists were there in the aftermath until late in the night feeding the loose group of victims who had hovered and returned to what they had left. We gave out what tents and sleeping bags we could scramble for from local stores, gathering statements of the most gross violations of civil rights I have seen in Santa Rosa. I am shaken and teary still as i write this. Nothing in my experience since San Francisco mayor Frank Kennedy's trash trucks in 1992 compares to this.

Many lost everything. Vans, trailers, and RVs summarily towed away, whether the owner was there or not, whether someone saved worldly goods or not. The typical pattern for the tents was 1) 'you have an hour', 2) a return, then 'you have five minutes', 3) and then, 'that's it, go away or we'll arrest you', and what they couldn't drag and pull and carry away by then was seized and destroyed before their eyes, with a bulldozer, or by tossing it in a trash truck. HOST, the Catholic Charities team, came through just before the storm like they do, hiding the secret blitzkrieg of what was to come from everyone, in their endless catcall of 'c'mon, let's all go to Sam Jones shelter', a place they almost all avoid, some under pain of death. 

The first victim, who is particularly resented by police because he knows his rights, was stopped at 8:30 am just at the tail end of organizing his things, and was summarily arrested for refusal to comply (told to leave the day before), and taken away. They used his arrest as an excuse to seize and destroy thousands of dollars of worldly goods on three trailers, ready to go. 

Throughout the day, others were mostly not arrested, just shoo'ed away at pain of arrest while their personal belongings were destroyed before their eyes. Several rushed back when they heard what was happening, one from going to the bathroom, and were too late, losing everything. A 72 year old grandmother endured laughter when she returned: she had missed what we caught on video, as her tent was dragged across the street and destroyed; she came back to all her goods filthy and scattered on the street, with her brand new tent cut up and tossed. One couple was following orders to get out, had their stuff in neat piles, and lost everything they had while they were arranging a preliminary pile off site, despite leaving a friend to guard it all: laptops, all their clothes and coats and blankets, all their papers. I left them on the side of the road to gather other statements, and they disappeared as the sun set. Where did they go to, with nothing? Three elders who are very sick wandered off into the night, lost to us; they're so delicate that any of them could die in even modestly cold and windy weather like last night. Where on earth-?

Where are my friends now? Were the cops out in force in the night? Did they find blankets?

Are they alone out there?

A few, including a few nicer-looking RVs in a row, were left alone, as if Moses had parted the waters, we think because some individual cop decided to be nice, or because a positive interaction had occurred at some point with them- we don't know. Think about that: justice was only available with the casual, informal word of a twenty-something cop. The rest suffered at the hands of cops, the less busy ones standing around, casually talking and laughing.

Before some of the victims disappeared, we scrambled our team of activists to get statements, and got perhaps 17. We had three lawyers working furiously on site along with us. These arrogant and stupid officials and administrators have gone beyond the pale to blatant, fully evil attacks on the helpless, in the name of optics for the neighbors, in the name of the landlord of the government offices across the street, in the name of ghost stories about leaky RVs. 

We will descent on them on Tuesday at city council, at 5 PM. (The county isn't meeting this week) We will show them what we know about this vengeance done in our name. We will organize other actions. We will read our friend's statements to them, to the press, to the public, to federal and state and county judges, representatives, and administrators. These Santa Rosa officials and administration chose the day after the Commission on Human Rights publicized their condemnation of the city and county for neglecting housing for the unsheltered to do this. Ignoring the basic needs of the unsheltered wasn't enough for these evil troops. Keeping our friends from bathroom and trash services wasn't enough: they needed to punish our friends for being poor, and casually, wantonly violate their civil rights all day long, at every turn, because someone a little higher than them told them they could. 

Our friends are gone, as they always are at these scatterings. We get their phone numbers as we can, the phone numbers of relatives; we ask their friends where they are, where they're going. But we lose them to the winds, to the deadly trails, where they can be hounded more easily as individuals. We don't know when or if we will see them again.

On their way out, two ladies eerily told me the same thing separately, with the same vehemence, and almost the same wording: I hate cops now. I didn't feel this way before, but now I truly hate cops.

I'm deeply ashamed of my government today, ashamed that I have spoken with such delicacy and restraint with them.

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