The LA City Council believes that they have the perfect solution to the City’s public housing crisis and no it doesn’t involve providing housing so don’t even start.
“What we’re going to do,” said a very animated Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, “is arrest them for sitting down in public!…HEH!” He paused for a moment anticipating applause, but when none came just said “Problem solved, right?”
Councilmember Blumenfield was referring to a plan by the LA City Council to amend Section 48.18 of the City’s Municipal Code such that it would become illegal to sit, sleep, lie down, remember something funny that happened to you earlier that day, or just fucking relax in public for a moment if you are almost anywhere in the City.
“How does arresting people for sitting down help LA’s unhoused?” I asked. Blumenfield looked confused.
“I’m sorry. Help who?” he said, bewildered at the question.
“Those without a house in which they can sit,” I explained. “How does criminalizing sitting or sleeping in public help them?”
“Wh–why…would I help them? I’m trying to help my constituents,” he said.
“But the unhoused people in your district are your constituents,” I reminded him, but he said he didn’t think that sounded right. “In any event, they won’t be my constituents once we arrest them for sitting down, right?” he laughed before taking a moment to show solidarity with me as a fellow progressive by apologizing for not having asked my preferred pronouns at the start of our meeting. “He/Him,” I told him. He then let me know that his favorite band back when he was at Duke was N.W.A.. “Easy E, I mean…wow.”
“Yeah, he was great,” I said. “Didn’t this exact same ordinance get struck down as unconstitutional last year because you aren’t allowed to criminalize sitting in public?” I asked, referring to the 9th Circuit’s Martin v. Boise decision which held making it illegal to sit or sleep in public violates the 8th Amendment.
“Yes! That’s what’s so good about this amendment! We reworded the same law so it now doesn’t technically ban essential human functions everywhere in LA. It only criminalizes them in the places where they actually occur.”
As my interview with Councilmember Blumenfield wrapped up I asked him whether he had considered the danger criminalizing sitting and sleeping in public would place on LA’s 60,000 unhoused. “1 in 3 incidents of use of force by the LAPD is against an unhoused person and 40% of unhoused Angelinos are Black,” I told him. “This seems like a recipe for disaster.”
“That is just so, so true–and you know, I am a big-time Black Lives Matter supporter, which is why I am working to require that whenever a Black person is arrested for sitting down in public the arresting officer hands them a little sticker that lets them know the LA City Council believes that Black Lives Matters,” said Blumenfield, once again waiting for applause.
“It’s so important for all to be allies,” he added after a few seconds of silence before changing the subject to his super cool plan to give all L.A. free Wi-Fi.
“Wi-Fi is a right, right?” he laughed, letting me that would be a good pull quote for the article. I asked him how I would use free Wi-Fi in public if he was making it illegal for me to sit down, but he just looked down at my fresh Sauconys, gave me a wink, and said he thinks I’ll be fine.
LA City Council is going to vote on November 24th to amend 48.15 and criminalize homelessness. Here is what you can do to stop it: