Ruby is still in shock over having to suddenly pack, sort out what she might store with a friend, and try to hang on in a world where most people dismiss you for having no address. Ruby is African-American, an older woman with severe disabilities. Can they do this in Berkeley?
Berkeley’s political and business leaders have ducked public scrutiny of their support for the sitting ban. But in a statement to Street Spirit, the mayor has admitted he put the sitting ban on the ballot because merchants demanded it. In Berkeley, human rights can be violated if it pleases the merchants.
“This isn’t some problem of bored kids from Oregon coming to Berkeley for the summer,” said Pattie Wall. “This is our problem, these are our kids and we have a responsibility to them — and our responsibility to them doesn’t include arresting them for not having any place to go.”
Many Berkeley citizens have come out against this egregious attack on the civil rights of homeless people. Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson and Jesse Arreguin have shown us that not all members of the council have been corrupted by the baleful lure of big-time developers and their filthy lucre.
Elisa Della-Piana, director of the Neighborhood Justice Clinic in Berkeley decried the anti-sitting measure as punitive. “It will achieve nothing except create division in the community,” she said. “Enforcement of the ordinance would keep people homeless and create criminal records that could prevent them from getting housing or jobs.”
In voting to place this discriminatory sitting ban on the November ballot, the Berkeley City Council has betrayed the very concept of equal rights for all. Laws that banish certain groups of people from public spaces — whether based on appearance, economic class, or race — are modern-day segregation decrees, plain and simple.
“The city and BHA promised to keep its public housing permanent to receive special funding from HUD to build housing for the poor. Now they are breaking their promise to current and future generations of the poor, who desperately need low-income housing to remain in their communities.” – James Vann
Berkeley’s business improvement districts continue to obsessively pursue anti-homeless measures in an attempt to cleanse the downtown sidewalks of homeless people. Yet the last thing Berkeley’s small businesses need is another highly politicized and self-destructive campaign about how terrible it is to shop in Berkeley.
Homeless youth led a colorful protest at Berkeley City Hall, displaying scores of prayer flags in an appeal for compassion for homeless people targeted by a sitting-ban proposal. The Stand Up For The Right To Sit Down coalition scored at least a temporary victory by sending this proposal “to limbo.”
Human rights include not only civil rights, but economic rights as well. George Lippman, chair of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, said, “Nothing defines the right to human dignity more clearly than such elemental human needs as the right to sit, the right to rest, the right to eat.”