Picture the Homeless, a social justice organization for and of New York City’s homeless, rallied outside police headquarters this morning to issue Commissioner Raymond Kelly a “ticket” for Disorderly Conduct — a charge often unfairly used, they argue, to arrest the homeless.
Jean Rice, a homeless man who said he has been arrested on dis-con charges 14 times in three years, cited Graham Rayman’s ongoing Village Voice series, The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy’s 81st Precinct, as evidence that the police, needing to meet arrest and stop-and-frisk quotas, view the homeless as easy targets.
Calling for an end to the criminalization of homelessness, the message of the rally was that that Disorderly Conduct, or “dis-con,” is too vaguely and broadly defined, and as a result is often used against the vulnerable homeless population in order to meet arrest and stop-and-frisk quotas put on by the NYPD with pressure from Raymond Kelly.
John Jones, currently homeless and a former PTH volunteer, offered his personal story about unfair police treatment. Jones said he was arrested when he was found sleeping in Central Park. The police accused him of “refusing” to leave the park after the 1 a.m. curfew — a charge that usually just results in a fine or a summons — and charged him with disorderly conduct. “They had no reason to arrest me,” Jones asserted.
Jean Rice, a homeless PTH board member, sampled a story of his own as well: “I was walking down the street on Lenox Avenue with a brown paper bag with a carton of milk in it and was stopped by an officer who asked, ‘What’s in the bag?’ Apparently, a homeless looking black man walking down the street with a bag in his hand is due cause for a search.”
When asked for identification*, Rice was told that his was not adequate and was taken into custody where he was held for over 48 hours. Rice asserted that he should have never been searched in the first place.
Mark Taylor, Vice President of the National Lawyer’s Guild, noted that this kind of treatment is a particular disadvantage to the homeless. It is often difficult for homeless people to obtain proper identification when they cannot provide an address, and so they must be run through a much longer process when brought into custody. Citizens with a regular home address are in and out of the office much quicker. Taylor called for a better way to ID the homeless.
Upon attempting to issue their “ticket” for disorderly conduct to Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the group was stopped by a police sergeant who told them they should try to arrange a scheduled meeting with the Commissioner. PTH responded that they had tried numerous times in numerous ways, and that was why they were here today. The sergeant said he would deliver the message and the ticket.
After the rally, Rice told us that reading the Voice series was invigorating. “Usually, the mainstream media plays into the propaganda of criminalization of the homeless,” he said, “so when the Village Voice says what we’ve been saying all along, it gives us credibility.” He also noted that it was “gratifying that the Voice encountered police officers disgruntled about the quota system,” and that Picture the Homeless would use statistics provided in the article to bolster their campaign.
*Ed. note: The identification Mr. Rice used was an Electronic Benefit Transfer card provided by the government.