On Thursday, May 17, I noticed that my registration sticker was missing from my rear license plate. Although my car is currently registered, the 2007 sticker disappeared somehow, whether by theft or by unseen mystery. The point is, it wasn't there, and as one who at times must drive, I left my home knowledgeable of my technical non-compliance with a law.
In a parking lot on my way to lunch, I saw an Escondido policeman and I asked him, 'Excuse me, sir, may I ask you a question?'I was wearing a pair of camel-brown Stacy Adams shoes, cuffed, pleated khakis and a golf shirt. I was freshly shaven, had my nails done and I looked to all the world like a comfortably middle-class, middle-aged white man. The officer said, 'Certainly.”
I explained to him my dilemma vis-à-vis the sticker issue and he told me that although one could be cited for such a thing, he would not do so; nor did he believe most cops would. He said that perhaps a CHP officer or perhaps an officer specifically assigned to traffic enforcement would, but that in the worst-case scenario, such an offense warrants a 'fix-it'ticket. In other words, I could basically flout the law with impunity and get to the DMV at my convenience to make myself compliant at some future date.
It was what I had expected, but it was good to hear it from a cop first-hand.
I met for lunch with my friend, whose agency happens to be one of San Diego's premier providers of services to the homeless, and he shared with me the following e-mail correspondence. It occurred between the manager of the Neil Good Day Center (my friend's employee) and two officers of the San Diego Police Department, and it concerns the recently adopted policy of permitting homeless people in our city to sleep on public property between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. provided they are breaking no laws, a policy adopted in light of a circuit court ruling that lacking any alternative, people must sleep somewhere, and it is unconstitutional for a city to prohibit a necessary biological function at all places and times. The policy was also adopted in part to settle a lawsuit brought against the city by several homeless San Diegans. With the exception of omitting the manager's name, I have not abridged a word.
Subject: Homeless Camp 4/19/07
I just had a handful of clients tell me that last night they were approached by two officers telling them that they could no longer sleep across from God's Extended Hand and that the 9pm to 6am decision was no longer in effect.
They also stated that one of the officers told them they should go to El Cajon or National City... According to one of the individuals, one of the officers was a sergeant.
Are you aware of this situation? Could you please verify whether or not the above is factual information?
From: BOTKIN, MATTHEW
Cc: DOLAN, DAVID
Subject: RE: Homeless Camp 4/19/07
I can tell you that the 9pm to 6AM is stil [sic] in effect. But, if there are complaints then the 'old rules'apply. As it stands to my knowledge there have been complaints about the large number of people in front of that location (a tent city is almost putting it lightly).
As for someone telling them to go to El Cajon or N.C.? I Wasn't [sic] there so can't tell you...
Have a good week,
From: Dolan, David
Subject: FW: Homeless Camp 4/19/07
I was there. We contacted them at about 7:00 pm and there were at least 30 people there with their beds and tents all spread out. We explained we had received complaints and told the individuals they had to leave or be cited. We received a lot of static from the individuals and they were hiding behind the 9 pm to 6 am rule. I explained to all of them it was illegal to sleep at any time and enforcement would occur on a complaint driven request. I also offered the yellow pamphlets to everyone.
As far as the El Cajon or National City suggestion...Yes it was said by an officer only after explaining to the individuals if they did not like the way things were going they could always seek refuge in another city.
Hopefully this clarifys [sic] what happened.
David Dolan, Sgt
If I were dressed like the people gathered in front of God's Extended Hand, I wonder if the policeman with whom I spoke would have been so permissive with me about intentionally violating a law to suit my schedule. I can't possibly know. But I suspect that those 30 people congregating in public in anticipation of sleeping during the hours stipulated for them to do so had no intention of violating a law. In fact, I bet they believed they were complying with one. If they violated anything, including anyone's desire to obscure the evidence of concentrated poverty in our urban core, they did so out of necessity. They didn't want to be there; they had to be. It's a shame they don't own shoe collections and get their nails done. If they did, perhaps the police would have told them, 'Don't worry about it.”
In our time, there is, evidently, no greater offense than being spotted by a cop in the act of being poor. I have written about homelessness before and about the San Diego Police Department, the city attorney (who has a copy of the preceding correspondence) and the City Council (each member of which has a copy as well). I haven't the space left to say everything I wish to say, but I will say this: Something is desperately, horrifyingly, gruesomely wrong in our city. You may hide from it, you may ignore it, or you may find a way to corrupt logic to the point that you can blame the victims for their victimization. But what you may not do is pretend that you don't know about it or that power exists for any reason other than to protect the defenseless and advance the goodness of our society.
I know some truths are unpleasant, but, by god, let the truth be told though the heavens fall. Some of you have been given a chance to use power for goodness. You have failed utterly and I just said so.