San Diego Sued for Destroying Property of Homeless People

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December 2, 2009
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The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties sued the city of San Diego for intentionally destroying homeless people's property--including family photos and medication--while individuals sought services at a local church and homeless shelter. The suit alleges that during three incidents in September and October police and city environmental service workers threw the homeless people's possessions into a garbage truck, even after the owners, who saw what was occuring, tried to stop the destruction of their property.

In a similar case in Fresno, a federal judge in July 2008 approved a $2.35 million class action settlement for homeless residents of Fresno.  The judge had earlier ruled that the city of Fresno and the state Department of Transportation had violated the homeless residents' constitutional rights by seizing and destroying their property.

California has a long history of criminalizing poverty. In 1855, for example, the legislature passed the so-called "Greaser Law," which allowed for up to 90 days of hard labor for "the issue of Spanish and Indian blood . . .  who can give no good account of themselves." In 1936, Los Angeles police chief James Davis sent 135 LAPD officers to California's borders to turn back migrants who had no money or jobs.

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And in other news from San Diego, human rights activists protested the lack of adequate safety features in a portion of the All-American Canal where immigrants frequently cross into the U.S.  According to one of the activists, about 600 people have drowned in the canal since it was built more than 40 years ago. In late 1994, the federal government instituted "Operation Gatekeeper," a program to beef up the border control infrastructure near San Diego and to push the flow of immigrants further east to more isolated and dangerous areas.  A report issued in late September 2009 by Mexico's Human Rights Commission and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties revealed that despite a 50% drop in the number of immigrants caught illegally entering the U.S. near the border with Mexico, the number of people who died while attempting to cross the border increased in 2009 to the highest level since 2006.  According to the report, since 1994, the rate of deaths along the 2,000 mile U.S-Mexico border has been one a day.

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