On the two year anniversary of the Safer Cities Initiative (SCI), members of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, (LACAN), organizers and supporters marched on Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles, last Thursday, to demand an end to the controversial law.
The initiative was proposed to reduce crime on Skid Row, but organizers contend that the law has aggressively targeted minorities and the poor. Organizers allege that the law was orchestrated to rid skid row of residents and make way for encroaching developers who are gentrifying the area.
Launched in 2006, the SCI has brought 50 additional Los Angeles police officers to the 50-square block Skid Row area and escalated sentencing for minor crimes.
“They’ve increased the police presence down here. It’s almost like the city is under siege,” said Pete White, director of LACAN. “Police have made 18,000 arrests in a population of 13,000 people, who are mostly minority and poor. Instead of getting us assistance for housing, addiction and treatment, they’re concentrating on locking us up,” said White, who referred to Skid Row as the “West Coast Soweto.”
LACAN organizers also said that the police have issued 24,000 citations to poor and homeless residents which have ended in warrants. Since most poor people cannot afford to pay for the warrants, many have been arrested and placed in jail.
“The mayor said he’s helping poor people with this initiative, yet he passed the SCI policy which does nothing but criminalize the homeless,” White said. “It appears that the major impetus for the initiative is to move as many poor and minority people out of the area as possible because the developers are coming into the skid row area and are asking the mayor, ‘What are you going to do about all these homeless people?’” White stated.
Waving banners and signs, protesters marched to the corner of First and Main Streets, where they blocked the entrance to city hall. “We took the corner for 15 minutes suspending all traffic,” reports White. “We want to end the Safer Cities Initiative right now and tell the mayor that he cannot arrest his way out of poverty or arrest his way into a higher office.”
White said that he has received numerous reports from skid row residents who have experienced harassment and been ticketed by police. “One of our members was smoking a cigarette on 5th Street. When the ashes fell to the sidewalk, he was thrown down on the ground and handcuffed. Then they issued him a littering ticket after warrant checks were run on him,” said White.
White and other organizers have been arrested for videotaping the activities of police officers who have allegedly harassed residents, including the elderly and handicapped. “We plan to file a report with the United Nations citing the failure of the city and the mayor to protect the rights of citizens on Skid Row,” said White.
Pamela Walls, 49, a former Skid Row resident, said that people living on skid row are fearful of police and feel that they are targets of undue police harassment. “I feel that the police are trying to fill a quota by stopping people and writing an excessive amount of tickets,” Walls observed.