I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Keeping Tempe Clean

An article in last week's Arizona Republic described a police sweep of the downtown Tempe area, where they nailed a number of people for panhandling, violating public liquor laws, various city code violations, and even one for selling narcotics - 30 arrests in all of what constitutes probably the most dangerous segment of our community: young kids hanging out, drinking and bumming money from passersby. Maybe some had homes to return to at the end of the day, maybe some didn't, though it was seen by local advocates for the poor as a crackdown on people who were homeless. But what do they know?

So good to know that the Tempe Police are putting their lives on the line to help make our shopping experiences more pleasant. That's some serious crime-busting, there. Bravo.

Everyone on AZ Central who commented on the article seems to know exactly who these youth are, what they want money for, what their employment and housing status is, what their social worth is, and where they belong - which is in jail, of course, since they're clearly just lazy bums who refuse to get a real job.

I didn't read through all the comments, but found many that sounded as if they were coming from the same people who blamed Marcia Powell for her own death in prison because she broke the law. Some even joked and cackled about it, trying to show how clever they can be.

Those are the people in this community who disturb me most - not the panhandlers. Hard-working, tax-paying citizens who believe that their social status entitles them to condemn just about everyone "beneath" them - particularly those who are such a nuisance - to jail, prison, or death. Prostitutes and panhandlers - and those brown-skinned people always looking for jobs - appear to cause this county much more concern than the upstanding child abusers, rapists, batters, murderers, and other serious offenders among them. After all, at least the latter don't stand out and make us uncomfortable as we walk down the street. They blend right in with the rest of us; some even make good neighbors.

While certainly not all commentators were critical of the youth arrested in the police sweep, I didn't catch any observations associating the increase of late in "aggressive panhandling" and the downturn in the economy. I had noticed that downtown Tempe was already losing businesses long before the sidewalks were so heavily populated by young people and street musicians - store after store - even Borders - has closed. Half of Tempe shut down before the school year even ended.

Now, I may have missed something, but aren't we in a recession? Or is it a depression now? Are there any "real jobs" left around here? Could it be that these kids are taking the heat for something much bigger than them?

And who really believes that jamming up the courts with people who can't afford to pay citations - and may therefore go to jail - is going to somehow benefit the community? Aren't we wasting enough money sending people to jail for petty things? That's just being vindictive. We've already put 1% of the adult Arizona population in prison - and the state wants to build more.

Maybe if Tempe took one of those empty storefronts and converted it into a collective some of these youth could run, they'd be surprised at the art, music, and poetry that comes out of there. They could cover rent with a coffee or sandwich shop, an off-beat bookstore - you know, something like Conspire in Phoenix comes to mind. Some young people are actually doing some pretty brilliant things around here - like running the Rusty Spoke Bike Collective. As is the case with most people, I'd guess, some young adults are much more "productive" and happy working with each other and for their community rather than in the service of someone else just looking for cheap labor to exploit and profit from.

But Tempe, like most of middle-class America, would rather invest in petty policing that criminalizes youth than creative community-building potentials. Why not "round up" all those who got arrested last week and ask them what the "problem" is, and how they'd solve it? I think we'd be surprised at how sophisticated their understanding of our economic and political systems are, and the alternatives that could be tried instead. I also doubt that any single one of them would fit the stereotypes we've already plastered on them. And I bet we'd find that through the week, in their own way, a lot of them are out there helping others who are having a rougher time than themselves.

That's more than I think can be said for our precious ASU boys drinking underage, pissing in the streets, selling meth and coke, and spreading venereal it is that they aren't considered a "public nuisance" is beyond me; instead this whole town rolls out the red carpet and goes down on its knees, competing for that student green.

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