Veteran Upbraids SB Officials For Abuse Of City’s Homeless

A homeless veteran who has spent more than a year subsisting on the mean streets, alleyways, parks, nooks and crannies of San Bernardino sternly rebuked public officials in the county seat, charging them with violating both common decency and the law in their treatment of the city’s indigent population and then engaging in prevarication, artful misrepresentation, fabrication and outright lying to keep their action from being disclosed.
“I’m a veteran,” said Frederick Douglas Bennett, Sr. “I’ve been in San Bernardino for quite a few years. Recently, I have come to a point where I had to be out and about on my own with no residence, no support. I get no financial aid. I have a disability. The VA [Veterans Administration]’s given me heck about that. I don’t have a lot of resources but I maintain the Good Lord Above provides for me.”
What he has experienced while he has been without a house has shown him that city officials and the police department have disregarded not only there own polices pertaining to the homeless but federal law, Bennett said.
The Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prevent governmental entities from criminalizing homelessness. The federal case Jones v. City of Los Angeles held that “the Eighth Amendment prohibits the city from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless.” The federal case of Lavan vs. Los Angeles prohibits the police or other governmental officials from seizing, discarding or destroying the personal belongings of the homeless that have been temporarily left in a public place.
The San Bernardino Police Department’s manual lays out Policy 418, pertaining to “guidelines for when officers may take a person into custody for psychiatric evaluation and treatment,” stating “When a person is taken into custody for evaluation, or within a reasonable time thereafter… the officer shall take reasonable precautions to safeguard the individual’s personal property in his/her possession or on the premises occupied by the person.” Policy 804 in the San Bernardino Police Department policy manual pertains to “property and evidence” and to “the proper collection, storage, and security of evidence and other property.” It provides that property seized as evidence and “found property” which “includes property found by an employee or citizen that has no apparent evidentiary value… be held for a minimum of 90 days and 60 days respectively. Policy 464 in the San Bernardino Police Department policy manual pertains to “homeless persons.” According to Policy 464, “The San Bernardino Police Department recognizes that members of the homeless community are often in need of special protection and services” and that the department “will address these needs in balance with the overall mission of this department… while protecting the rights, dignity and private property of the homeless. Members of this department will not use homelessness solely as a basis for detention or law enforcement action.” Policy 464 states that “The personal property of homeless persons must not be treated differently than the property of other members of the public. Officers should use reasonable care when handling, collecting and retaining the personal property of homeless persons and should not destroy or discard the personal property of a homeless person. When a homeless person is arrested or otherwise removed from a public place, officers should make reasonable accommodations to permit the person to lawfully secure his/her personal property.”
Bennett said San Bernardino officials, including its police officers, obey the law and function by those policies and guidelines in pretense only.
“I have written proof – citations and tickets – showing our police department is taking people’s personal property, locking people up who speak up about it and telling us we can’t come to a public park We’re the public. On about May 31 I heard someone in here mention about you are not having property taken from the [homeless]. Well, I’m a member of the public and I was using a public park – Seccombe Lake. They say it is illegal to camp. That’s what the sign says. Camping is a leisure activity. Look in any dictionary: It’s a leisure activity. That’s something you do when you have someplace else to go, like home. If you don’t, you’re homeless. It’s not camping. It’s not a leisure activity. We are citizens. We have the right to be treated like citizens, regardless of whether we’re holding a full time job or whether we’re living in a square abode with 2.2 kids, a cat and a dog. I have here a notice that told me to leave the park. Several times I have been thrown out of the park in a daylight period when the park is open to the public.”
In some instances, Bennett said, his rights had been abridged by some people acting out of ignorance. Other times, he said, his rights had been violated as a consequence of mistaken presumption. In other cases, he said, those who trampled on his rights knew their actions were illegitimate.
“It’s a public park,” Bennett said. “We have certain people who are miseducated. Education is a very good thing. Education is something we give each other in life. There are prejudices we continually pass on, knowing better. If a person doesn’t want to come around me while I am sitting in a park with my personal belongings, and you don’t want to come around me period, you shouldn’t come to the park.”
Bennett personally indicted the council and all city officials with inhumanity and contempt of the U.S. Constitution, simultaneously explaining that the term “homeless” is a misnomer.
“I would like to see: What does the government intend to do for the citizens who are houseless?” Bennett said. “We’re not homeless. This is our home. America is, too. I’m a veteran. And I will stand and fight for that. The way we are being treated is unfair. We are taxpaying citizens. Some of us do have jobs. Some don’t live in homes, because it is hard. No job, no rent, no house. No house, you can’t even apply for a job. It’s a Catch-22. A cycle. Nothing. We have all this land, all this work, people going around doing things that are going to improve the government, picking up trash. How about employing the homeless, employing the unemployed?”
Moreover, Bennett said, city council members and other city officials are falsely crediting themselves with being proactive in addressing the homeless situation. That they are now having the police resort to brutally treating the homeless in an effort to induce them to leave San Bernardino betrays their real nature, Bennett suggested.
“I see and hear a lot about all these good things people say they are doing and believe they are doing,” Bennett said. “I just want everybody to think about what is the difference between a hypocrite and [someone who] acts by belief. When you believe something, you act according to it. If you believe you’re on fire, you drop and roll. If you believe in your heart that you are doing things that benefit the quality of life for people and say that you are doing things because you care about people, then we should see it.”
Bennett continued, “You have selectively created codes and enforce codes against a selected group of people because of their status in our society. It sounds like discrimination. Doesn’t matter if you are black, white or gay. If you are poor, the world comes down on you. What is the difference between an illegal encampment and a legal encampment? I’ve heard mentioned illegal encampments. What’s a legal one? Work for the taxpaying citizens? Our homeless could be doing that. We don’t have any jobs. No one’s trying to employ us. Federal funds are being received by our city and used by our city to fund outrageous police conduct against citizens who are houseless in their own home. I am such an inhabitant and repeatedly a victim of seizures, of depriving me of quality of life. Our founding fathers provided for the quality of life for all citizens. President [Barack] Obama says an assault against one person regardless of race based on social origin, religious belief is an attack on us all because we all have the right to be free and to live as we choose to live and it’s your job and we pay for you to ensure that. You’re not doing that.”
All things considered, Bennett said, he recognized that the city’s homeless population could not count on assistance from the city. Nevertheless, he said, it was unconscionable for city officials to be engaged in activity to drive the indigent away by citing them, arresting them, criminalizing them, or seizing their property.
“You don’t have to help me,” he said. “Just don’t hurt us.”
Councilman Jim Mulvihill took issue with Bennett’s comments, refuting the suggestion that by enforcing the city’s codes city officials were doing something wrong.
“The point is we spent a great deal of time talking about homelessness,” Mulvihill said. “We are doing a great deal with regard to homelessness. We have an access center that is available. We spent over half of a million dollars over the past year on the homeless issue. Parks are meant for visiting, to enjoy the natural environment. They are not meant to live in, to defecate in and to damage the irrigation, which seems to quite commonly take place. To our homeless speakers, you need to listen up: We are doing a great deal and all you need to do is take a look at the city’s website. Visit the access center, which has been available now for at least two-and-a-half years.”
San Bernardino resident Bonita Rodriquez, who had previously advocated that the city take action to alleviate the homeless problem at the city’s parks, told the council she thought city officials had acted improperly and inappropriately with regard to the matter. “I spoke to you about two weeks ago and I told you we would all like to enjoy our parks, but the way you guys went about it, throwing the homeless out like that instead of you offering some kind of assistance to them,” Rodriguez said, was wrong.
“Some kind of organization could have come out and helped them but nobody was there for them,” Rodriguez said. “It was a sad day. I had to look at it. My feelings were hurt. I can only imagine how they felt just being thrown out of the park like that, with nowhere to go, nothing to do. They just sat there, just stunned. I didn’t understand. Why didn’t you guys try to go and reach out to these people? There’s some, yes, I understand, that don’t want the help and then there’s some who need the help and want it. There have been a lot of people who have been contacting me, veterans, people who want to help these people. I’ve been in contact with them, but I just don’t understand why you guys just turned them out and you did it in that harsh way.”

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