9TH CIRCUT COURT OF APPEALS SAYS “NO” TO LAPD TAKING PROPERTY ON LA’S SKID ROW
By General Dogon and Eric Ares – COMMUNITY CONNECTION – Los Angeles Community Action Network
In early September, a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld an injunction that bars the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department from seizing the property of Skid Row residents:
“This appeal does not concern the power of the federal courts to constrain municipal governments from addressingthe deep and pressing problem of mass homelessness or to otherwise fulfill their obligations to maintain public health and safety. In fact, this court would urge Los Angeles to do more to resolve that problem and to fulfill that obligation. Nordoes this appeal concern any purported right to use public sidewalks as personal storage facilities. The City has insteadasked us to declare that the unattended property of homelesspersons is uniquely beyond the reach of the Constitution, so that the government may seize and destroy with impunity theworldly possessions of a vulnerable group in our society. Because even the most basic reading of our Constitution prohibitssuch a result, the City’s appeal is DENIED.”
The ruling stems from a 2011 lawsuit brought upon by eight homeless people – Skid Row residents against the City of Los Angeles – who had their property taken and destroyed while they were eating at a local mission.
Since the 1980s, residents and allies have been fighting to protect the personal property rights of homeless residents in Skid Row from LAPD and the City of Los Angeles, who have repeatedly been found guilty of illegally seizing the belongings of homeless folks.
With the assistance of Civil Rights Attorney Carol Sobel and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, an organization that organizes homeless and low-income residents in Skid Row, these eight individuals filed a lawsuit against the city for violating their 4th Amendment right of protection against illegal search and seizures. In June 2011, Federal Court Judge Philip Guttierez agreed with the plaintiffs and filed an injunction against the city:
The city immediately appealed the decision and, with the assistance of the local business community, began a campaign to discredit the ruling. In the weeks following the decisions, the local business improvement associations, one of the primary driving forces behind the gentrification of Downtown LA, began placing Letters to the Editor and Op-Eds in local newspapers claiming that the ruling resulted in the city not being able to clean up trash. The city then called on the County Health Department in an attempt to get around the ruling by declaring Skid Row a health hazard.
But the county found the city guilty of numerous health code violations and ordered more trash cans, regular trash pick-ups, more public restrooms, and the supplying of homeless folks with cleaning supplies. Community residents and organizers agreed, stating that the ruling did not prevent the city from picking up trash.
Then, in early September, the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the residents. To celebrate the victory, the Hippie Kitchen (also known as the Los Angeles Catholic Worker) help a press conference on the steps of the Skid Row police station, during which it distributed 100 new and free shopping carts to homeless residents. The message was clear: 30 years of robbery and illegal seizures by LAPD have come to and end!