Authorities moved to disperse a weekslong protest outside Sacramento City Hall late Friday and into the morning Saturday, making four arrests and citing three others who refused to leave, a police spokeswoman said.
Nearly 50 officers converged on the downtown government complex in a pre-dawn operation to enforce a city ordinance that prohibits the homeless and others from urban camping, said Traci Trapani of the Sacramento Police Department.
She said about 20 protesters were present when the police moved in. At least a dozen protesters were at City Hall on Saturday afternoon.
Organizers said the protests began Dec. 8 and stretched beyond three weeks when the city moved to break up the encampment. Wrapped in blankets and other “camping paraphernalia” that violate the city’s ordinance, the group said its demonstration is designed to draw attention to what it believes is an unjust law.
The department is not yet releasing the names of the people arrested, although protest coordinator James “Faygo” Clark said he was among those taken into custody. Clark, who described himself as homeless, said he and the others were released after a stay in the Sacramento County jail.
“It’s unfortunate that they wasted a lot of taxpayers’ money – riot gear, overtime,” Clark said.
Trapani said the four were taken in for resisting arrest and/or illegal camping, and one on an outstanding warrant. Three others were cited for illegal camping and then released, and two others voluntarily agreed to go to a shelter.
Trapani said officers went “above and beyond” in warning the group before moving in to enforce the local law “and actually located churches for these guys to seek shelter – and they refused.”
“It wasn’t a quick just ‘arresting people’ type of thing,” she said. “It’s been percolating for weeks.”
While the city recognizes the First Amendment right of protesters, it must still enforce valid city ordinances, said Linda Tucker, city spokeswoman, in a news release.
“The city also has an obligation to enforce laws involving the protection of public health and safety, including provisions of the Sacramento City Code that prohibit camping and the storage of camping items on public property,” Tucker said.
She said courts have upheld the constitutionality of the anti-camp ordinance. Protesters suggested the rule was unconstitutional.
Clark acknowledged that the protesters had been warned by police.
“We weren’t willing to move, to back off,” he said.
He said protesters are particularly incensed with the ban on “camping paraphernalia,” saying it’s wrong to arrest people for having tents and sleeping bags.
“They’re telling people they can’t have sleeping bags to keep themselves warm,” Clark said.
The homeless issue has simmered in Sacramento for some time. The 3rd District Court of Appeal last February mostly dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city’s camping ordinance. But the court did open the door to challenging the ordinance on the grounds that it has been enforced unfairly against the homeless. That would violate the equal protection provisions of the U.S. and California constitutions.
Meanwhile, community activist Russell Rawlings has made the city’s treatment of the homeless one of the centerpieces of his long-shot campaign for mayor.