Arrest raises doubts about Wiener's loitering ban

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Use a tent, go to jail?

Bob Offer-Westor, Human Rights Organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness (CoH), was arrested and issued a citation for loitering within half an hour of setting up his tent in Jane Warner Plaza on Friday evening. He demonstrated how the recent push to enact new anti-camping regulations – which the Board of Supervisors is considering this afternoon – will only seek to criminalize behavior already outlawed under s627(e) of the California Penal Code.

Following the incident, CoH claimed in a press release that the reliance by the San Francisco Police Department on PC 647(e) to arrest and cite Offer-Westor for loitering settles the debate by showing that legislation already exists to deal with the problem. But the author of the new regulations, Sup. Scott Wiener, remains unconvinced.

When contacted by the Guardian, Wiener reiterated his view that the claim that his proposal would duplicate existing law is “misinformation” and that existing laws referred to by the CoH either do not specifically relate to the two plazas or are so general as to be inapplicable.

This includes PC 647(e), the provision under which Offer-Westor was arrested, which states that: “Every person who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.”

When asked to respond to news of the arrest, Wiener's position was unshaken and he said that it was not surprising that the police relied on 647(e) as it is the only provision that may apply to camping in the plazas, but that its use by the officers proved nothing.

“Section 647(e) is vague and non-specific. One can argue that it does apply to camping in the plaza and someone could also argue that it does not apply. My legislation would clarify and make it explicit,” Wiener told us. “I would run the bet that if the ticket was taken to court that it would be found to be too vague and would not apply...Police should not have to rely on vague provisions.”

Offer-Westort would like to call Wiener's bluff. He has sent Wiener – who is an attorney – a copy of his citation and asked the supervisor to act as legal counsel, but has so far received no response, adding that he objects to Wiener's continuing use of the word “misinformation”.

“It's amazing to me that he can continue to call this 'misinformation' after we have proven it in the real world,” Offer-Westort said.

Earlier this month, more than 20 prominent LGBT activists, including eight former presidents of the Harvey Milk Club, signed a letter outlining their opposition to Wiener's regulations, saying that the legislation raises the spectre of infamous sit/lie laws which targeted the hippies of the 1970's but were instead used to drive gay men out of the Castro.