The City of Seattle has decided to bring charges against the Camp4Unity Fifteen -- a group of clergy, homeless people and their advocates (including myself), and student and labor allies -- who walked a tent out onto Cherry Street near City Hall on June 9. The civil disobedience protest came after Real Change's third encampment at City Hall to protest the Mayor's ongoing sweeps of homeless campsites.
Protesters have been hit with failure to obey a police officer on top of the anticipated pedestrian interference charge, and face a possible penalty of 365 days in jail.
Civil disobedience is a tactic that one employs when all other options have been exhausted. After nearly a year of strong activism by a variety of organizations, little progress has been made. The Nickels administration has doggedly held to their program of aggressive campsite clearances. The City Council, led in this matter by Human Services and Public Safety Committee Chair Tim Burgess, has refused to adequately address the concerns of homeless advocates or demand real accountability from the Mayor.
This year's annual One Night Count of homeless people found 2,631 people in King County surviving outside of an overcrowded emergency shelter system. The City has added 20 new shelter beds to meet the needs of those displaced by the clearances. The mayor has consistently refused to directly answer the obvious question: Where are they supposed to go?
It is perhaps fitting that the pedestrian interference statute under which we are charged criminalizes panhandling, sleeping in public, and sitting on sidewalks.
The prosecution of the Camp4Unity Fifteen offers another opportunity for the people of Seattle to tell the Mayor that his campsite clearance policy is ham-handed, inadequate, and dishonest.
To find out how you can support the Camp4Unity Fifteen, email Natalie at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 206-441-3247.