The trend toward criminalizing the poor has recently picked up momentum in Seattle, and we should all be very concerned.
Seattle's support for the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness -- which holds that housing is the answer, and any new shelter is a step backwards -- is routinely held up to justify the criminalization of survival. The city's homeless sweeps, which label all homeless campers as criminals and addicts, have aggressively targeted those who resist Seattle's overcrowded shelter system.
Two thousand six hundred and thirty-one people were counted outside a too full shelter system last January. Fifty-five new beds have been added to offset the removal of public sleeping options at night. Most campers will remain outside of Seattle's overcrowded shelters, chased from sweep to sweep until they are ticketed, fined, and bench warranted into jail or out of town.
City Councilmember Tim Burgess has recently released a new plan to attack "social disorder" through more aggressive policing. Seattle, by the standards of any major urban area, is not a threatening city. In fact, crime rates are down. This is Seattle's newest iteration of former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani's broken windows theory, which treats the urban poor as indicators of social decay and treats them accordingly.
Along those same lines, Mayor Nickels wants a new jail for misdemeanants, at a cost of $110 million to build and about $19 million annually to operate. Never mind that upstream alternatives to incarceration have reduced the jail population by 30 percent. The city seems to anticipate a crime wave, and I doubt it has to do with the DUIs and domestic violence perps they keep talking about.
One in 99 Americans are behind bars. Most of them are poor. This fact is still invisible to many of us, but at the rate we're going, it won't stay that way for long.