The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

LA:
New police chief's crackdown on the homeless

Dec 9, 2002

At the end of November, the Los Angeles Police Department, joined by the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Corrections, the U.S. Marshal's Service and the FBI launched "Operation Enough," aimed, supposedly, at cracking down on crime.

In fact, for two days and nights, hundreds of law enforcement officers fanned out through the neighborhoods and low-cost hotels where homeless people have been forced to stay. They shined flashlights into tents, lined up dozens of people at a time against the wall, and questioned people on the street. By the end of two days, the police had made over 200 arrests, most for parole violations. They also handed out several hundred citations, including for jay walking, pan handling and other "traffic violations."The fact that the police would choose to carry out such a large operation against the miserable and poor homeless was nothing less than shocking. After all, the police were not arresting people for carrying out a crime. They were simply harassing and rousting people for no other reason than the misfortune of having no place to live.

Authorities say that over 15,000 people live in the cheap hotels, homeless shelters and on the streets of L.A.'s skid row. This is not, by any means, an accident. Starting in the mid-1970s, with the growth of unemployment, the decline of decent low-cost housing and the cuts in social services for the mentally ill, the homeless population began to skyrocket. The L.A. city government decided to "physically contain" the homeless population in one corner of the city. Instead of taking steps to improve conditions for the very poor, the government officials decided to simply "contain" them, so they wouldn't interfere with business.

This has been official policy ever since. For over a quarter century, prisons, jails, police departments, social services and mental health agencies from all over the region – and even the state – have literally dumped social outcasts and an increasing number of homeless families onto skid row. There, they are expected to survive on practically nothing but the help of a few overwhelmed soup kitchens, homeless shelters and state offices for social services.

Every once in a while, usually when local businesses have issued enough complaints about the filth, pan handling, robberies, drugs and prostitution, the police have carried out much publicized sweeps similar to "Operation Enough." Of course, this changes nothing, since the crime stems from the abject and wretched social conditions that the very poorest have been forced to live under, conditions only made worse by such sweeps.

Upon taking office in L.A., the new police chief, William Bratton, made the usual promises to clean-up and reform the LAPD, which for years has been mired in police brutality scandals, as well as drug and bribery scandals. He also made the usual promises to bring down the quickly increasing crime rate.

But his crackdown on the poor and miserable on skid row shows that Bratton will be just more of the same.