Jesse Nesbitt, charged with Occupy violence on May Day, tell his story.
"It was in Berkeley out at the Occupy camp. I got into a fight with somebody, I was in a black out. It took six cops to hogtie 135-pound me, so I was talking shit. While I was hogtied, they dropped me on my head. I went from talking shit to unconscious. I slept for the next two weeks," Nesbitt told me.
His involvement with Occupy San Francisco increased after the Occupy Berkeley encampment was taken down.
Occupy San Francisco, however, didn't quite progress the way he had hoped. "When they started raiding us in December, I was hoping the numbers would go up. Instead they dwindled," said Nesbitt.
He was part of a small group of people continuing the "occupation" tactic outside the Federal Reserve Building at 101 Market St. Back in the fall, that sidewalk was a spot where dozens of people held protest signs and meetings all day and many slept throughout the night. After a series of police raids, and as most of those organizing with Occupy moved on to different tactics and projects, some decided to remain there.
Even when the Justin Herman Plaza camp was in full functional form, it was derided as "nothing but a homeless camp." There were homeless people there, but many found food and other resources, as well as security from both police and other people they feared on the street, leading many to devote themselves to the goals of the protest movement.
The 101 Market camp that emerged in February was mostly a homeless camp — and, although the people there remained fiercely political in their convictions, they certainly didn't enjoy the safety that the Justin Herman camp once provided.
Nesbitt was one of those people. "The SFPD not letting us sleep, telling us sitting on cardboard was lodging, sitting under a blanket to stay warm was lodging, you can only take so much of it," he said. "They slammed my head against the back of a paddy wagon last time they arrested me for sitting underneath a blanket."
His story is not unusual.
"Veterans continue to lead the nation in homelessness," explained Colleen Corliss, spokesperson for the veterans-aid nonprofit Swords to Plowshares. "There are a lot of factors at play. Those who go to war have a higher instance of mental illness and substance abuse, which ultimately can lead to a vicious cycle of homelessness," she said. "Even if you serve during peace time, you can still have really traumatic experiences."
Nesbitt's experience with the city's mental health facilities wasn't enough to break this cycle. "I did get 5150-ed," he said, describing the term for involuntary psychiatric commitment. "I was in the hospital less than 24 hours, they kicked me out."
Why? "I threatened to kill a doctor," said Nesbitt.
Nesbitt's 24-hour stay was in the overburdened, short-staffed psych ward at San Francisco General Hospital. When the psych wards began closing beds in 2007, it was comprised of four units, each with 30 beds; it is now down to one unit, according to Ed Kinchley, a social worker in the medical emergency department at General.
There's also a floor in the behavioral health center for psychiatric patients with 59 beds, but "they told the staff last week that they're planning to close 29 of those beds."
"Since [the beds] are full almost every day, the bar or the standard for who stays there or who goes in-patient is a lot higher than it used to be," said Kinchley.
Whatever the reason, Nesbitt was not getting treatment the day of the alleged brick-throwing — and he was having problems. "I was getting an episode the day before it all happened," he said. "I was afraid to go by myself to sleep because I was hearing voices. Normally those voices tell me to hurt people. I try to keep around people I love and trust that wouldn't let me do anything."
Mixed with his schizophrenia is a brand of Constitutionalism that's not common on the left.