Posts tagged Los Angeles

Men in Uniform #3

Here’s a passage from a recent article in the L.A. Times, which is supposedly about a growing problem with alcohol-related offenses by L.A. county sheriff’s deputies. (Actually, what’s growing is the number of police reports of offenses by deputies, not necessarily the number of offenses actually committed. It used to be that L.A. cops would hardly ever report it when they encountered one of their gang brothers drunk and doing something dangerous. Professional courtesy and all that. What’s changed is that the department got some bad P.R. a few years back when a drunken cop started waving his gun around and got his cousin shot. So now they are actually starting to put these things on the books.)

Michael Gennaco, the head of the [County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review], said alcohol-related arrests have nearly tripled since 2004. Alcohol-related incidents in 2009 are at the same pace as last year, he said.

. . . Gennaco’s report also cited two cases in which deputies drew their guns after coming out of bars. In one case, a deputy followed a bar hostess to her car, flashed his badge, told her he’d like to molest her and kissed her on the neck. He displayed his handgun before kissing her again, according to the report. The deputy pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace and was suspended for 15 days, the report said.

— Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times (2009-04-16): Alcohol a growing problem in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, report says

Actually, the newspaper’s summary is kinder to the cop than he deserves. Here’s the full account from the OIR’s full report:

A deputy met a few friends at a bar and struck up a conversation with the bar’s hostess. At approximately 1:30 a.m., the hostess left work. The deputy saw the hostess crossing the street toward a parking garage and offered to walk her to her car.

The hostess declined the offer and encouraged the deputy to rejoin his friends. He then told the hostess that he was a cop. As the hostess continued to walk away from the deputy, he showed her his Department identification card. As the deputy continued to follow her to the dark secluded parking garage, she became increasingly nervous and scared.

As they entered the parking garage, the deputy turned to the hostess and said, You’re young and beautiful, and you probably get this all the time, but I’d really like to molest you. But I’m too nice. The hostess became even more fearful. The deputy then requested a kiss from the hostess, which she declined. The deputy then placed his right hand at the center of the hostess’ back, leaned over and kissed her neck. She moved her head away and told the deputy a second time that he did not have to walk her to her car. He responded that it was okay.

Inside the parking garage, the deputy stated again, Yeah, I’d really like to molest you, but I’m too nice. Then, the deputy asked her whether it looked like he had a gun on him. The hostess replied, That’s creepy. The deputy then asked the hostess whether she wanted to see it—and even though the hostess told him no—the deputy reached into his pant pocket, removed a black semi-automatic handgun and showed it to her. As she neared her car, the hostess thanked the deputy for walking with her and said goodbye. The deputy then moved closer to her and while still holding the handgun in his right hand, kissed her again on the neck. The hostess quickly got into her car and drove out of the parking garage. While she drove off, the hostess saw the deputy standing in the same spot, holding the gun and looking around.

The hostess reported the incident to a local police agency. The case was investigated and presented to a City Attorney’s office. The deputy was ultimately charged with one count of battery. Rather than proceed to trial, the deputy pled nolo contendere to an amended charge of disturbing the peace/causing loud noise. After the criminal conviction, the Department administratively investigated the incident and found that the deputy had violated Department policies. The Department suspended the deputy without pay for 15 days.

— County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review (April 2009): Seventh Annual Report

Of course, the real problem here has more or less nothing to do with alcohol. The problem has to do with a set of legal privileges, a police culture, and an institutional environment where this male deputy could realistically expect that even if he chased a woman trying to get away from him, told her that he’d like to molest her, intimidated her by brandishing his physical advantages and his legal authority, and then forced unwanted sexual contact on her, while she repeatedly said No — and even if he then brandished his gun and forced unwanted sexual contact on her again, even as she continued to say No and tried to get away from the predatory creep — that, after all this had come to light, he’d have no problem staying on at his job, or continuing to carry the badge and the gun that he so eagerly showed off as tools of sexual coercion, and that he would in fact face no personal consequences at all for terrorizing and sexually assaulting a woman, above and beyond pleading out on a misdemeanor nuisance charge, and being given a two week vacation from his job.

The L.A. county sheriff’s office doesn’t have a drinking problem. It has a power problem, and the reason for the problem has a lot to do with the fact that if a deputy turns out to be a creep who abuses his position of power — including male deputies who turn out to get off on using their weapons and their position of power to harass, intimidate, and sexually assault women — there will be no serious attempt to hold them accountable for anything that they may do.

See also:

Professional courtesy

(Boing Boing 2008-04-07, via Roderick Long 2008-04-08.)

It’s 1:45 p.m. on a Wednesday in February and a Toyota Camry is driving west on the 91 Express Lanes, for free, for the 470th time.

The electronic transponder on the dashboard – used to bill tollway users – is inactive. The Camry’s owners, airport traffic officer Rudolph Duplessis and his wife, Loretta, have never had a toll road account, officials say.

They’ve never received a violation notice in the mail, either. Their car is registered as part of a state program which hides their home address on Department of Motor Vehicles records. The agency that operates the tollway does not have legal access to their address.

Their Toyota is one of 996,716 vehicles registered to motorists who are affiliated with 1,800 state and local agencies and who are allowed to shield their addresses under the Confidential Records Program.

An Orange County Register investigation has found that the program, designed 30 years ago to protect police from criminals, has been expanded to cover hundreds of thousands of public employees — from police dispatchers to museum guards — who face little threat from the public. Their spouses and children can get the plates, too.

This has happened despite warnings from state officials that the safeguard is no longer needed because updated laws have made all DMV information confidential to the public.

The Register found that the confidential plate program shields these motorists in ways most of us can only dream about:

  • Vehicles with protected license plates can run through dozens of intersections controlled by red light cameras and breeze along the 91 toll lanes with impunity.

  • Parking citations issued to vehicles with protected plates are often dismissed because the process necessary to pierce the shield is too cumbersome.

  • Some patrol officers let drivers with protected plates off with a warning because the plates signal that the drivers are one of their own or related to someone who is.

Exactly how many people are taking advantage of their protected plates is impossible to calculate. Like the Orange County Transportation Authority, which operates the tollway, many agencies have automated processes and have never focused on what happens to confidential plate holders. Sometimes police take note of the plate and don’t write a ticket at all.

I would highly doubt that anybody is registering their vehicles on a confidential basis to do anything but protect themselves, Garden Grove Police Capt. Mike Handfield said. I just don’t think people are thinking they’re getting away with anything…. Is the value of having a confidential plate and protecting the law enforcement community from people who might hurt them, is that worth that risk? I believe it is.

The Register asked the DMV for a list of the number of motorists participating in the program and the agencies they claim as an employer. But the DMV refused to provide those records unless The Register paid $8,442, which officials said was the cost of extracting the list from its database.

Some police officers confess that when they pull over someone with a confidential license plate they’re more likely to let them off with a warning. In most cases, one said, if an officer realizes a motorist has a confidential plate, the car won’t be pulled over at all.

It’s an unwritten rule that we would extend professional courtesy, said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years. Nine out of 10 times I would.

California Highway Patrol officer Jennifer Hink put it a little differently. It’s officer discretion … (But) just because you have confidential plates doesn’t mean you’re going to get out of a citation.

Many police departments that run red light camera programs systematically dismiss citations issued to confidential plates.

It’s a courtesy, law enforcement to law enforcement, San Francisco Police Sgt. Tom Lee said. We let it go.

— Jennifer Muir, Orange County Register (2008-04-04): Special license plates shield officials from traffic tickets

The term professional courtesy comes from the traditions of medicine: many doctors will not charge money when they treat another doctor’s immediate family. When doctors talk about professional courtesy they are talking about a very old system of mutual aid in which one doctor agrees to do a favor for another, at her own expense, for the sake of collegiality, out of concern for professional ethics (to offer doctors an alternative to having their own family as patients), and because she can count on getting similar services in return should she ever need them.

But when the Gangsters in Blue start talking about professional courtesy, they’re talking about something quite different: a favor done for a fellow gang member at no personal expense, with the bill sent to unwilling taxpayers who must pick up the tab for the roads and parking; and a favor done in order insulate the gangsters and their immediate family from any kind of ethical accountability to the unwilling victims that they sanctimoniously insist on serving and protecting. Professional courtesy in medicine means reciprocity in co-operative mutual aid in healing sick people; professional courtesy in government policing means reciprocity in a conspiracy to make sure that any cop can do just about anything she wants by way of free-riding, disruptive, dangerous or criminal treatment of innocent third parties, with complete impunity, and the rest of us will get the bill for it and a fuck you, civilian if we don’t like it.

To be sure, letting a traffic ticket slide is, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty small thing. But it’s a small thing that is intimately connected with bigger things—with a pervasive, institutionalized system with consequences that are as terrible as they are inevitable and predictable.

Death by Homeland Security (#2)

(Via La Chola 2008-03-17.)

Francisco Castaneda, a refugee from the civil war in El Salvador, died on February 16, 2008, from metastatic penile cancer.

He died because he went without getting a biopsy or receiving any medical treatment for about a year after obvious and excruciatingly painful symptoms began to show up. He went without the biopsy and the treatment because the United States government’s immigration Securitate had him locked in a cage at the time, and they repeatedly refused to let him get any treatment.

I came to the United States from El Salvador with my mother and siblings when I was ten years old to escape from the civil war. my family moved to Los Angeles where I went to school and began working at the age of 17. My mother died of cancer when I was pretty young, before she was able to get us all legal immigration status. After my mom died, I looked to my community for support, and found myself wrapped up in drugs instead, which, today, I deeply regret. I worked, doing construction, up until I went to prison on a drug charge, where I spent just four months before I was transferred into ICE detention.

When I entered ICE custody at the San Diego Correctional Facility in March 2006, I immediately told them I had a very painful lesion on my penis. After a day or two, Dr. Walker examined me and recognized that the lesion was a problem. He said he would request that I see a specialist right away.

But instead of sending me directly to a specialist, I was forced to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. All the while, my pain got worse. It started to bleed even more and smell really bad. I also had discharge coming out of it. Aparrently the Division of Immigration Health Services was deciding whether to grant the request. Dr. Walker submitted the request more than once and, after more than a month, it was finally granted. When I saw an oncologist he told me it might be cancer and I needed a biopsy. He offered to admit me to a hospital immediately for the biopsy, but ICE refused to permit a biopsy and told the oncologist that they wanted to try a more cost-effective treatment.

I was then referred to a urologist, Dr. Masters, but I only got to see that urologist two-and-a-half months later, after I filed sick call requests and grievances with ICE. The urologist said I needed a circumcision to remove the lesion and sop the pain and bleeding, and also said I needed a biopsy to figure out if I had cancer. ICE and the Division of Immigration Health Services never did either of those things. They said that it was elective surgery.

My pain was getting worse by the day. When you are in detention, you can’t help yourself. I knew I had a problem, but with everything you have to ask for help. I tried to get medical help everyday. Sometimes I would show the guards my underwear with blood in it to get them to take me to medical, but then they would say they couldn’t do anything for me. All they gave me was Motrin and other pain pills. At one point, the doctor gave me special permission to have more clean underwear and bedsheets, because I was getting blood on everything. A guard from my unit once told me he would pray for me because he could see how much I was suffering.

Several more requests for a biopsy were denied. They told me in writing that I could get the surgery after I left the facility—when I was deported.

In late November 2006, I was transferred from San Diego to San Pedro Service Processing Center. When I got there I immediately filed sick call slips about my problem. after a few days I saw the doctors. I told them about my pain and showed them the blood in my boxer shorts and asked them to examine my penis. They didn’t even look at it—one of them said I couldn’t be helped because I needed elective surgery. They just gave me more pain pills.

In the middle of December, I noticed a lump in my groin. It hurt a lot and was a little bit smaller than a fist, so I filed a sick call slip about it. Another detainee told me it could be a hernia. I never got any treatment for it, and I later found out that was a tumor, because the cancer had already spread.

In the beginning of January, one of the guards told me I was going to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. They put me in handcuffs and leg shackles and drove me in a van to the emergency room. When I got there the officer walked all around trying to find someone to see me, but he was told I would have to wait in line like everyone else. After about an hour of following him all chained up, he took me back to San Pedro and I didn’t get to see anyone.

Back when I was in San Diego, another detainee gave me the phone number for the ACLU and said they might be able to help me. I called them, and spoke with Mr. Tom Jawetz, here, and told him my story about how much pain I was in. When I got to San Pedro he sent letters and called the people at the facility to try to help me get medical care. Finally, around the end of January, immigration agreed to let me get a biopsy. They made an appointment with the doctor, but just before the surgery they released me from custody. A doctor actually walked me out of San Pedro and told me I was released because of my serious medical condition and he encouraged me to get medical attention.

The first thing I did was call the doctor to see whether I could still get my biopsy. The secretary told me ICE had cancelled it. I then went back to the emergency room at Harbor-UCLA—the same place they had left me in the waiting room in shackles—and I waited to see a doctor and finally get my biopsy. A few days later, the doctor told me that I ahd cancer and would have to have surgery right away to remove my penis. He said if I didn’t have the surgery I would be dead within one year. On February 14—Valentine’s Day—nine days after ICE released me from custody, I had the surgery to remove my penis. Since then, I have been through five aggressive week-long rounds of chemotherapy. Doctors said my cancer spreads very fast–it had already spread to my lymph nodes and maybe my stomach.

I’m sure you can at least image some of how this feels. I am a 35-year-old man without a penis with my life on the line. I have a young daughter, Vanessa, who is only 14. She is here with me today because she wanted to support me–and because I wanted her to see her father do something for the greater good, so that she will have that memory of me. The thought that her pain–and mine–could have been avoided almost makes this too much to bear.

I had to be here today because I am not the only one who didn’t get the medical care I needed. It was routine for detainees to have to wait weeks or months to get even basic care. Who knows how many tragic endings can be avoided if ICE will only remember that, regardless of why a person is in detention and regardless of where they will end up, they are still human and deserve basic, humane medical care.

In many ways, it’s too late for me. Short of a miracle, the most I can hope for are some good days with Vanessa and justice. My doctors are working on the good days and, thankfully, my attorneys at Public Justice here in Washington, Mr. Conal Doyle in California, and the ACLU are working on the justice–not just for me, but for the many others who are suffering and will never get help unless ICE is forced to make major changes in the medical care provided to immigrant detainees.

I am here to ask each of you, members of Congress, to bring an end to the unnecessary suffering that I, and too many others, have been forced to endure in ICE detention.

— Francisco Castaneda (2007-10-04), testifying before the House Immigration Subcommittee Hearing on Detention and Removal: Immigration Detainee Medical Care

This man’s life could have been saved. He wanted to get medical treatment in March 2006. His doctor recommended a biopsy. If he were a free man, he could have gotten this treatment, but as a prisoner of the U.S. government’s Homeland Securitate, he was forced to stay where they wanted him to stay, go where they wanted him to go, and get what they wanted him to get. So he lived with excruciating pain for two years while the cancer grew, spread, and ate him away from the inside. It didn’t matter when he developed a painful lesion; it didn’t matter when he bled everywhere for months; it didn’t even matter when he developed a tumor the size of his fist. What matters to the ICE bordercrats, and their hired thugs, is that this man once possessed a stimulant that the U.S. government didn’t approve of him having, and, to their minds, that’s a good enough reason to grab him at gunpoint, lock him in a cage for months on end, and then exile him from the home he has lived in since he was 10 years old. Or, in this case, to just lock him in the cage and deliberately deny him medical treatment until the imprisonment turns into a slow-motion death sentence for a nonviolent petty drug charge. What, after all, is the life of Francisco Castaneda — who is, after all, only a man, a son, the father of a teenaged girl — compared with the duty to zealously protect the prohibitionist domestic policies of the U.S. federal government, the awful importance of rigorously preserving the sanctity of imaginary lines in the southwestern desert, and the honor of the politico-cultural system of international apartheid, which those lines are drawn to implement?

Federal judge Dean Pregerson just issued a ruling in which he denounced ICE’s actions, or inaction, as conduct that transcends negligence by miles. It bespeaks of conduct that, if true, should be taught to every law student as conduct for which the moniker cruel is inadequate. The primary practical effect of this ruling is that Francisco Casteneda’s family will be able to sue ICE in federal court for his death. They certainly deserve whatever compensation they can get for this horrible crime. But even if they succeed, it must be remembered that the sanctimonious, unaccountable thugs who effectively tortured a peaceful man to death — the immigration cops, the prison guards, and the comfortable bureaucrats, government lawyers, and politicians who direct them in their actions — will never pay a damned cent for what they did. What they will do, if a judgment is entered against them, is to help themselves to tax money in order to make the pay-out, sticking the rest of us—who never had anything to do with their asinine border laws, immigration prisons, or callous indifference to human life—with the bill. Then they will go on doing exactly the same vicious and inhuman things to peaceful people who never did anything to deserve such appalling treatment. And why wouldn’t they? As far as they can see, they have every reason to believe that none of them will ever be held personally accountable for their choices.

Further reading:

The purpose of government schools is to train your children to love the government.

And if you don’t like the training that the government is giving them, you can go to prison.

A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.

… The ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, who have been homeschooling their eight children. Mary Long is their teacher, but holds no teaching credential.

… The Second District Court of Appeal ruled that California law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home.

California courts have held that … parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children, Justice H. Walter Croskey said in the 3-0 ruling issued on Feb. 28. Parents have a legal duty to see to their children’s schooling under the provisions of these laws.

Parents can be criminally prosecuted for failing to comply, Croskey said.

A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare, the judge wrote, quoting from a 1961 case on a similar issue.

— Bob Egelko and Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle (2008-03-07): Homeschoolers’ setback sends shock waves through state

I suspect that if I knew the people involved in this case, I would have no particular sympathy for Philip Long, who came under the court’s scrutiny in the first place because one of his own children filed a complaint for child abuse and neglect.

If that individual child wants out of the Longs’ homeschooling, or for that matter wants out of the Longs’ home entirely, she or he should be able to get out, without any danger of being locked up, forcibly returned under the state’s Fugitive Child Laws, or getting beaten up by angry adults. Currently, children in the state of California don’t have that freedom. But the right way to address whatever abuse or neglect there may be in the Long family is precisely to recognize and respect that freedom for each individual child, rather than by forcing the parents to place all their children, regardless of what those individual children may want, under the surveillance, supervision, and power of even more adults — government-approved teachers, social workers, and other professional busybodies — with nothing better to recommend them than political connections and a sanctimonious sense of entitlement.

And the solution is certainly not to issue a general ruling claiming that the government has any business at all making sure that all children are indoctrinated to the fullest extent of the law in the government’s own ideas of patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation. Using the threat of fines and prison in order to force all parents and all children, no matter what their family situation, to participate in a system of government-approved institutionalized schooling, explicitly for the propaganda purpose of training school children to love and serve the existing régime, is a case study in the most vile sort of authoritarian government.

(Via Dan Clore @ LeftLibertarian 2.)

Further reading:

Urban homesteading

So, I have an essay coming up in next month’s Freeman (thanks to the encouragement and editorial efforts of the indefatigable Sheldon Richman). It’s called Scratching By, and the theme is to explain how it’s not the free market, but rather the State, in its role as the invisible fist of corporate capitalism, that creates the material predicament faced by poor folks in American cities. One of the topics that I touched on there, and which I mentioned before in my comments on the South Central Farmers, is government control and planning of inner-city land use. Government regimentation of land squeezes poor people economically; perhaps more importantly, it also keeps them permanently in hock to, and at the mercy of, a select handful of politically-connected developers and slumlords. Last week, Women of Color Blog (2007-11-09) alerted me to the latest example: HUD’s continuing refusal to let New Orleans public housing residents return to their old homes, even two years after the fact. All for their own good, of course, whether or not they happen to think that they are best off living as permanent refugees. The plan is to begin demolishing the homes, now forcibly kept vacant, in order to make room for government redistribution of the land to connected developers for the usual urban renewal projects.

A major human rights crisis exists in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It is a crisis that denies the basic rights to life, equality under the law, and social equity to Black, Indigenous, migrant, and working class communities in the region. While this crisis was in existence long before Hurricane Katrina, the policies and actions of the US government and finance capital (i.e. banking, credit, insurance, and development industries) following the Hurricane have seriously exacerbated the crisis.

One of the clearest examples of this crisis is the denial of the right to housing in New Orleans, particularly in the public housing sector. Since the Hurricane, the US government through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has denied the vast majority of the residents of public housing the right to return to their homes. Unlike the vast majority of the housing stock in New Orleans, the majority of the public housing units received little to no flood or wind damage from the Hurricane. Yet, as of October 2007 only ¼ of the public housing units have been reopened and reoccupied. The Bush government refuses to reopen the public housing units in New Orleans because it appears intent on destroying the public housing system, demolishing the existing structures, and turning over the properties to private real-estate developers to make profits.

Based on the discriminatory Federal Court ruling issued on Monday, September 10th, all of the major public housing units in New Orleans are now subject to immediate demolition (the latest report from Monday, November 5th is that HUD will attempt to start the demolition on Monday, November 19th. However, this is being challenged by various legal advocates and will be delayed until at least Wednesday, November 28th pending a Federal court hearing). The first site on the schedule for demolition is the Lafitte housing project.

— My Private Casbah 2007-11-09: All Public Housing Units In New Orleans Set To Be Demolished

Now, I’m an anarchist. As such, I’m also intent — far more intent than George W. Bush could ever dream to be — on destroying the so-called public housing system. I hope to destroy it right along with the rest of the statist system of regimentation, rationing, command and control. But, the Department of Bulldozers’ opinions notwithstanding, destroying the system of control is not the same thing as knocking over the homes that the government controls. The hope is to liberate them and allow people to reclaim their lives from the domination of the State and the exploitation of state capitalism.

As far as these particular public housing units are concerned, the proper question to ask is, who rightfully owns the homes that are set to be demolished? In the eyes of the State legal system, that’s the Housing Authority of New Orleans, a quasi-governmental non-profit corporation substantially under the control of its patron, the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. But neither HANO nor any other creature of the State can be the rightful owner of this or any other property. States are nothing more than massive criminal enterprises; they have no land and no money except what they expropriate from others by force. Their claim to the Lafitte housing project, like all their other claims, is fraudulent, because piracy is not a legitimate means for acquiring title to anything.

So if not HANO, who are the rightful owners? Well, when property has been lost or abandoned, it rightfully belongs to those who find it and put it to use. In the case of New Orleans and its government housing projects, that means that the people who should rightfully be regarded as the owners are not HUD or HANO bureaucrats, but rather the current tenants. Each resident has gained a legitimate ownership interest in her home, and in the land that it is built on, in virtue of occupying and homesteading it. Radical libertarians should recognize, on free market principles, that the federal government’s interventionist efforts to lock poor people out of their own homes and pass the land along to the nearest professional slumlord for development should be regarded as nothing more or less than State-sponsored theft. Specifically, State-sponsored theft in the name of propping up the political-economic class system of landlordism.

The radical implications of the homesteading principle for urban housing extend far beyond New Orleans. In pretty much every major American city, there is a more or less permanent supply of vacant lots, burned-out plants, condemned buildings, and other land which has been held out of use for years, and will continue to be held out of use for years to come. Part of the reason that so much land remains idle is that formal title has often been seized by the city government or by quasi-governmental development corporations, through the use of eminent domain, and the lots are simply abandoned while they await government public works projects or developers willing to buy up the land for large-scale building. In a free market, vacant lots and abandoned buildings should be available for homesteading by anyone willing to do the work of occupying and using them — which emphatically includes poor people in search of housing, a place to set up shop, land to cultivate for food, or for whatever other use they can put it to. It is only government intervention on behalf of state capitalism that keeps these lots shuttered and keeps them locked up in the hands of government bureaucrats and real estate developers; without statism there would be no political process of expropriation, demolition, redistribution, and redevelopment. Free people would be able to establish property rights in abandoned land, and thus provide their own housing, free of landlords and bulldozers, through their own sweat equity.

It’s because of this that I’ve been following the Take Back the Land movement in Miami with a lot of interest and a lot of sympathy. Their first project, the Umoja Village shanty-town (1, 2), was as good an example as you could like of socializing the land through direct action. And now, Max Rameau writes that their new project is to Take Back the Housing:

October 23, 2007 marks one year since the rise of the Umoja Village Shantytown in the Liberty City section of Miami in response to the crisis of gentrification and low income housing. In the year since this “people power” action, much has changed and much more remains the same. Black and other poor communities are ravaged by the crisis of gentrification and low-income housing while the same government which extracts taxes from us, does nothing to alleviate the crisis. One year later, the issue of community control over land remains fundamental in solving the crisis.

As the real estate bubble explodes around us, vacant foreclosed homes litter our communities and speculators choose to hold onto vacant houses and apartments, waiting for the next market swing in order to make their millions. For it’s part, in spite of all the scandal and crisis, Miami-Dade County doggedly maintains an unconscionable and immoral stockpile of vacant public housing units, units which otherwise would shelter some of the 41,000 families languishing on the housing assistance waiting list.

All the while, the homeless population grows, particularly among the under-housed, those not living on the street, but doubling and tripling up in single family homes, including public housing, where the extra families live illegally, endangering the housing security of the entire extended family, sometimes right next door to a boarded up, vacant unit.

We are forced to conclude that Miami-Dade County intentionally leaves units vacant, or tears down public housing all together—exemplified by the HOPE VI funded Scott-Carver public housing project demolition—as a means of fueling the real estate boom. When governments take units of low-income housing off of the market, the value of the remaining privately held units increases, as families scramble to find new living arrangements. This is nothing short of tax financed market manipulation, designed to decrease supply at a time when demand is sky high, resulting in a government sponsored—not market driven—real estate boom.

… In spite of the crisis, scandal and controversy, the reality is that local governments continue to enrich wealthy developers and have intentionally failed to address this crisis in any meaningful way. Neither Miami-Dade County nor the federal government operates based on the interests of poor Black people. As such, we are left with no other option than to provide for the people for whom the government is not providing.

Take Back the Land, again, asserts the right of the Black community to control land in the Black community. In order to provide housing for people, not for profit, this community control over land must now take the form of direct community control over housing.

Consequently, Take Back the Land has initiated the process of moving families and individuals into vacant housing, whether public, foreclosed upon or privately owned and intentionally vacated.

As of this writing, several families have already been moved into housing and several more are desperately awaiting their turn. We will move families and individuals into vacant housing units all across Miami-Dade County.

— Take Back the Land 2007-10-24: Take Back the Housing

A true free market requires an end to what Benjamin Tucker rightly condemned as the land monopoly, and a radical application of the homestead principle, which means that an awful lot of squatter’s rights can and should be recognized as the basis of a just claim to the land. While I disagree with Tucker on some of the specifics of rightful land ownership — for example, I don’t think that rental contracts necessarily constitute abandonment of land — I do agree that absentee landlordism is artificially propped up by a pervasive and unjust system of government intervention on behalf of the rentier class. Abandoned land rightfully belongs to those who can reclaim it through occupancy and use. So three cheers from this libertarian to Take Back the Land, and here’s hoping that counter-economic urban homesteading will spread — throughout Miami, onward to New Orleans, and throughout every housing market currently clutched in the talons of land monopoly and state capitalism.

Further reading: