Kimberly Jones, co-author of “I’m Not Dying With You Tonight,” presented a powerful statement addressing the source of the pain of the black community. She educates us within the historical context of the wealth acquired on the labor of black slaves and the deliberate destruction of thriving black communities. She is not shy with her grief and anger and after listening to her, one cannot be anything but compelled to take action. At the end of the video she emphasizes that the “social contract is broken” and those with the power and authority who promised to create a safe and equitable space “broke the contact.”
I have watched this video multiple times since it was shared publicly and I am still processing the weight of that statement. Though she speaks of the black community and the stark economic disparity of poor blacks and those of other communities, I cannot help but acknowledge how this translates to our neighbors impacted by homelessness.
The Law Enforcement Oath of Honor states: “On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for their actions. I will always uphold the constitution, my community, and the agency I serve.” I consider the events over the past weeks and fail to see how that oath has remained in practice. Donna, an unhoused neighbor interviewed on June 2, 2020, detailed her interactions with a local Sacramento law enforcement officer. Bear in mind as you watch, as of March 22, 2020, the Health Officer of the County of Sacramento ordered under the authority of California Health and Safety Code Sections 101040, 101085, and 120175, item #7, allowed those unsheltered to remain in place and to only remove in the event of an emergency and that disposal of their property is prohibited.
“On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust.” How does kicking and threatening an unhoused woman, an unhoused citizen, comply with this oath? A woman on the streets is incredibly vulnerable to the threat of violence towards her and this officer, who agreed under honor to uphold his community, violated her trust. Violated whatever faith she maintained for the powers meant to protect its citizens.
Our community members impacted by homelessness are already vulnerable as they are regularly exposed to the outside elements of extreme heat and cold with no available drinkable or running water or regular access to toilets and showers. Their immune systems are compromised from living outdoors while also suffering from traumas that are not being appropriately addressed. In the face of the pandemic, they are being asked to “shelter-in-place” making it difficult to access the services utilized to meet their basic needs. And with no door to close for the evening, there is no semblance of security. They should be able to trust “those in blue” to positively affect any situation and ensure their safety as they too are part of the community.
What do our unhoused neighbors do when law enforcement abuses their power and fails to behave with integrity? What do they do when they have no recourse? How can we expect our unhoused neighbors to house themselves when those with power refuse to acknowledge their worth?
“You broke the contract.”