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NCH and partners ask DOJ to investigate Criminalization of Homelessness in Miami

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

 

NCH joined the National Homelessness Law Center, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and Southern Legal Counsel to send the following letter to the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice. 

We applaud the actions of DOJ to open an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department and we believe it is historic for the Attorney General to emphasize the  treatment of those without housing in announcing the investigation. As we told your staff, we  believe that the San Diego police are engaged in a much larger campaign to endanger the lives of  those without housing by throwing away personal possessions and displacing thousands of  unhoused individuals. Since our meeting, it has come to our attention that the City of Miami  Police are engaged in a systematic and coordinated effort to make homelessness disappear by  regular harassment of those without housing.  As you know the City of Miami was sued by homeless individuals in the 1980s in Pottinger vs.  City of Miami. There were settlement negotiations in the 1990s and an agreement was struck.  The activists and homeless individuals claimed that there were regular violation of the agreement  and eventually the court ended the oversight of the Pottinger settlement despite a great deal of  evidence that there was regular police harassment of homeless people in Miami. While we recognize that DOJ’s oversight of the City of Miami Police related to police shootings recently ended, we believe the pattern and practice of systemic engagement of those living outside and forcing them to relocate and to regularly have their personal possessions confiscated and discarded demands further scrutiny.  

The National Homelessness Law Center, the Southern Legal Counsel and Legal Services of  Greater Miami join the National Coalition for the Homeless with this letter. The local Legal  Services of Greater Miami have several clients who are unsheltered individuals and have  reported incidents in which City of Miami employees under the supervision of City of Miami  Police have thrown away almost all if not all their property. They have documented the  discarding of medical devices, prescription medications, clothing, shoes, tents, identification  documents, dentures, glasses, family photos, and even a family member’s ashes. Most of these  individuals are African American and LatinX residing on the streets of Miami. In addition to  Legal Services’ clients, we have the contact information for another dozen individuals who have  had these negative experiences with the City of Miami police, and we could solicit additional  voices if necessary.  

Further, on October 28, 2021, the City of Miami passed an ordinance which prohibits  encampments on public property which further criminalizes those experiencing homelessness. Typically, DOJ investigations are opened after a tragedy like George Floyd in Minneapolis,  Brionna Taylor in Louisville or Timothy Russell/Malissa Williams in Cleveland, but we are  hoping to avoid a similarly tragic situation in Miami. The individuals swept by the police are  continually starting over. They are having their health jeopardized by discarding their life  sustaining medicine that a doctor has prescribed to address their mental illness or other chronic  conditions. They feel frustrated, angry and treated as a second class citizens by the City of  Miami. We are asking for DOJ involvement to stop a potentially deadly encounter between  those living outside and the police supervising these clean ups. Any of the organizations signed  on to this letter would be willing to assist in any way we can with a DOJ investigation of the  pattern or practice of the City of Miami police.  

Sincerely,  

Donald Whitehead
Executive Director
National Coalition for the Homeless

Jeffrey M. Hearne Esq
Director of Litigation
Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.

Eric Tars
Legal Director
National Homelessness Law Center

Jodi Siegel
Executive Director
Southern Legal Counsel, Inc.

Are the American People Getting What They Voted For?

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

by Kelvin Lassiter

As the country emerges from the shutdowns surrounding the pandemic, Americans have become inpatient. Promises made regarding voting rights, paid time off, and tax hikes on the wealthy to pay for much needed infrastructure have not come to pass. 

Now, after several months of negotiations, the president’s original $3.5 trillion-dollar spending measure for the infrastructure bill and the social spending package has now been reduced in price tag to $1.75 trillion dollars (read the text of the Build Back Better bill). Some of the highlights of the bill include:

  • 150 billion in housing investments
  • Extension of the Child Tax Credit for one year
  • 100 billion to reduce immigration backlogs
  • Expansion of health care coverage that will save nine million Americans $600 a year on their premiums

Things left out of the final framework:

  • Paid family leave
  • Clean Electricity Performance Program
  • Ability for the government to negotiate with drug companies for Medicare also won’t be allowed.

While the American people appreciate the efforts for the things that will remain in the bill, it is severely underfunded, and will affect our housing insecure population for generations. The cities of New York and Los Angeles combined need at least 150 billion alone to being their public housing infrastructure up to code. Also, eliminating the ability for the government to negotiate drug prices is damaging. Who wants to make the choice to pay for medicine, or pay to survive without medicine?

In his latest remarks, President Biden reminded the country that this bill is historic, and an investment in the American people. Not everybody got everything they wanted including me, but that’s what compromise, and democracy is. While his remarks are true, the American people counted on lower drug prices, lower housing costs, clean air, and paid family leave to survive. Are the American people getting what they voted for? It remains to be seen, stay tuned.

I had just scored a long touchdown – A reflection on Racial Injustice

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

by Donald Whitehead

I was a part of a small group of thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds who often played a lively game of tag football in the Burnet Avenue U.S Post office parking lot in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

I had just scored a long touchdown. As I was finishing my touchdown celebration, I noticed a University of Cincinnati Police cruiser drive by. I saw the woman in the back pointing at some of the people in the parking lot. Minutes later, the parking lot was swamped with police cars. Campus police and Cincinnati officers jumped out in mass with guns drawn, and suddenly we were ordered against the vehicles, and guns were pointed at our heads. We were confused and terrified about what was happening what we had done other than play football on the lot for several hours. Why was there so much anger coming from the police officers? Why did they have their guns drawn?

Donald Whitehead, NCH Executive Director, with Rep. Maxine Waters

I can still hear my best friend say, “let’s run for it.” I sometimes wonder what might have happened if we had taken his advice.  We know from recent history that running would have been a mistake, potentially a fatal mistake.  Luckily one of my brothers who wasn’t placed against the car had gone to get our parents.  Our houses were less than a hundred yards away.  

The white woman in the police car pointing had been robbed and assaulted by a group of black boys, and we fit the description. To her credit, after further inspection, the woman realized that none of our group was involved. The tension faded; however, the damage was done. We were good kids; we went to church every Sunday and sang in the Church Choir; none of us had ever been in trouble. 

This was our first contact with law enforcement ever.

We did not commit the robbery; in fact, it was us that got robbed that day.  We were robbed of innocence, robbed of trust in those that protect and serve—robbed of our belief in a colorblind world.  This is not a unique scenario; it is a lot more common than many would believe.

No child should have to learn such painful lessons with a gun pointed at their head.

That day was the first of many pen pricks of racism that I experienced and still experience to this day.

The incident also taught me not to be silent in the face of discrimination.  Our silence is negligence; we cannot see or experience injustice without protest or at the very least identify it. Our minor protest resulted in season-tickets-for-life to the University of Cincinnati football games.

The other lesson learned for me was the need to understand how and why I fit the description. Why am I suspicious without provocation? Why is my excellence somehow seen as out of the ordinary or achieved through dishonesty or criminality? I immediately wanted to understand history, my history, our collective history. I became a Dr. Martin Luther King fan; unfortunately, this was the only historical figure fully accessible in my post-secondary education.  

I became my own historian, and the more I have learned over the years, the more I have wanted to know.

I have been completely horrified by the middle passage, chattel slavery, black codes, and Jim Crow practices. 

I have also been so proud and grateful to my ancestors.  I am so respectful of their incredible resilience and their ability to survive the unthinkable horrors they endured.  

As my teams and I work to reintroduce the world to our full history, we often encounter the voices of the apathetic or the discouraged. The level of internalized racism is surprisingly significant. I find myself troubled by the thought that nothing will change from some in the community. 

To not believe in change is disrespectful to the many changemakers who have given their lives. Things have changed in many ways, most notably, the end of chattel slavery and the opportunity to gain civil rights have been hard-fought and slow and painful.

In many ways, it does appear that we are going in the wrong direction. From Charlottesville to massive voter depression efforts, it’s easy to be discouraged. It’s easy to ignore the senate election in Georgia or the election of Barack Obama when the Supreme court weakens the civil rights amendment. Watching angry crowds protest students having the ability to learn the unfiltered history of the United States by misrepresenting every attempt as the misunderstood Critical Race Theory, it’s easy to overlook that the Secretary of Defense is a dark-skinned black man.

Our racial reconciliation is recent in history; the first African Americans landed on the continent’s shores in 1619.  Brown versus Board of Education was passed in 1954. For 300 years, we survived on a steady diet of resilience, pride, and hope; we must never abandon those ideals. 

Those discouraged by the current state of our country learn from the setbacks and rejoice about the progress and never stop believing in change. Every living breathing African Americans is a product of success. We are descendants of unfathomable resilience.  Resilience from the 400 years of all of the things I mentioned earlier and resilience from the pen pricks of racism today and those yet to come. The great Booker T. Washington said “Success should not be judged by ones station in life but the obstacles they had to overcome to get there.”

Read more about how centuries of racial injustice affect who experiences homelessness today.

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