Another open letter to the Mayor and City Council
February 9, 2007
Dear Mayor Foutch:
I write again to express my concerns about the Pedestrian Interference Ordinance and the adversarial atmosphere that the City appears to be developing towards the "tent city."
With regard to the ordinance, I continue to believe that this ordinance is unnecessary. There are sufficient safeguards available through enforcement of public nuisance, assault, harassment statutes to address the anecdotal justification for this ordinance that has criminalized the simple human behavior of sitting down.
I note that City officials have been quoted in the newspaper talking about using this ordinance to "move people along" when there are problem reports and police officers do not witness a crime taking place upon their arrival. But this ordinance does not allow the police officers to "move people along." If they are standing up, the ordinance does not apply. If they are engaged in activity exempted as free speech, the ordinance does not apply. Once again, I ask the City Council to reconsider this ordinance. I think a 90 day moratorium on enforcement to allow review would be a good step now.
As we have discussed previously, because the ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to sit or lie down on the sidewalk, the maximum penalty for violation is potentially much more draconian than 90 days in jail and a $1,000.00 fine. A misdemeanor violation will likely violate release conditions for probation and various criminal deferral programs, so the actual jail time that could develop from getting tired and sitting down on the sidewalk may be years in jail. This does not serve any of us.
There are just too many unintended consequences with this ordinance.
Please immediately suspend any enforcement and revisit the question about whether there is any need for this ordinance whatsoever. It is a sad thing if people feel fear and possibly loathing when they encounter other human beings who are so "down on their luck" that they simply decide they have to stop and sit or lie down in a public space like a sidewalk. It is truly sad if this is the best place they can find to sit or lie down. It is truly sad. But there is no guaranteed legislative fix to fear.
With regard to tent city or Camp Quixote, I encourage the City to recognize this as a peaceable assembly of a group of people who are petitioning the government for redress of grievance. These human being are conducting themselves with great dignity. They have established a community and presented a list of grievances. The City seems to be moving toward a position of refusing to negotiate with the residents of tent city. I worry this will lead to a standoff that will end with the City removing the residents of this community and needlessly destroying their community and possessions. That outcome is likely to lead to a Section 1983 federal civil rights violation lawsuit that I don't think the City can possibly win. It has been reported in the newspapers recently that it cost the City of Seattle $800,000 to lose the first stage of the federal civil rights action that developed from the World Trade Organization event. I think it is likely that this was the inexpensive part of the litigation for the City of Seattle.
I would be sorry to see the poor people I have recently met on the streets in Olympia hurt by the City of Olympia. I have met folks at Camp Quixote who have great dignity. Many have no jobs or job prospects. Most have few possessions. But they have their dignity and my respect. I implore the City to engage in discussion with these folks on their list of concerns. Tent city is democracy on a shoestring. This is truly what democracy looks like. It is First Amendment exercise of free speech and the right of the people to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievance.
Please open the lines of communication with the Poor Peoples' Union and the residents of the tent city now.