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.
National Coalition for the Homeless
Jeffrey M. Hearne Esq
Director of Litigation
Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.
National Homelessness Law Center
Southern Legal Counsel, Inc.