Civil Rights

SMPD Profiling of Venice Homeless

By Brian Connolly

I was lying down in Ozone Park (“behind Whole Foods”) minding my own business with a sleeping bag over me due to a chilly wind when a cop approached me. Though alone in the sunny palm tree-lined park and clearly not doing anything wrong, the officer demanded to see my ID. I was being profiled as being an HP – homeless person – by the Santa Monica Police Department. 
I was in the “no man’s land” on the border of progressive Venice Beach and elitist Santa Monica. Aware that I’m not required to produce an ID, but could have instead asked if I was being detained or arrested, I chose to give it to him. I’ve never been arrested. He made it immediately clear that he was running my ID for warrants. He then stated that the reason he had engaged me was that on a previous day their department had received a complaint from the homeowners across the street that other homeless individuals had been doing drugs and were a nuisance. 
What in the world did that have to do with me? Nothing, obviously. But this is the reality of police abuse since the financial crisis caused by the Wall Street bankers. The standard of probable cause has been all but thrown out. My right to enjoy Ozone Park like anyone else was being superseded by the departmental convenience of the SMPD. 
Their method of dealing with the call was not to do police work – to, for example, observe if anyone was actually breaking the law and then engage police powers – but, instead, to “clear the park.” The officer conducted a conversation with another SMPD official over his radio in an intimidation attempt – making it plain that HPs will be singled out and scapegoated into incurring forced background checks for the crime of “looking homeless” – profiled.
If your attitude towards hearing all this is “Good. To hell with these homeless %$#%&#s. I’m sick of seeing them too!” – you’re part of the problem.  If you’re a person of color (POC), Jewish, Muslim – even Irish or Italian – there is a sad history of abusive profiling in your own “cultural tree.” 
America is on a march towards the expanding of rights – not the rescinding of them. I saw an injustice that day – I’ve acted upon it – exposing it. That’s how America really works. Actions. Pushing back against intrinsic unfairness. The radio chattered. The officer shuffled his feet, looking (to his credit) a little uncomfortable. My ID had come back “no priors — ever.” Awkwardly, he made a comment about what time the park would close late that night as if that was at issue — as if his function in society suddenly was simply, in effect, to serve and protect. 
But this officer’s function in society that day in the “no man’s land” between America’s rich and poor — haves and have nots — was something very different. The reality of profiling different classes or groups of individuals is that it creates an immediate climate of some people having rights – and just as quickly a judgement that others are unworthy of the same right. The only true solution to these bias-based injustices is to treat all individuals irrespective of their race, gender-identity or perceived social-economic class, etc., as being part of a single class — American.