I was born here
Landless African Descendent Elder fights racism, classism and the Amerikkka just-US system and wins!
by Lisa Gray-Garcia aka tiny and Rhonda Patterson/PNN
"I was born here,". Mrs. Patterson didn't look up as she spoke. Her voice inaudible, lost in the cement, concrete, doorways, truck exhaust, honking horns, brick walls and glass storefronts of Downtown San Francisco. Her body, the color of earth and wind, land and nature, was camouflaged in long ago lost clothing, shredded blankets and plastic ware.
"Ms Patterson," I whispered to her as she crouched in a tiny closed liquor store doorway, "we are going to win this case, I promise," Rhonda Patterson, a landless African Descendent elder who has resided on the street at 605 Market street for over 20 years after being red-lined out of and evicted from her home in San Francisco, barely looked up.
It had been one week since Michael Hall, an attorney whose office was located on the 9th floor of an office building at 605 Market street had begun harassing Ms Patterson culminating in the filing of a stay away order against her. A stay away order that accused her of threatening him with violence.
For years Ms. Patterson had tucked her shopping cart tightly against the side of the building near the 2nd street wall of 605 Market street , until the Men's Wearhouse, the store that occupies the storefront there, with help from Mr. Hall, got an injunction against Ms Patterson, requiring her to move.
The morning she appeared in front of the 605 Market St building, sitting close to the curb, so as not to block the sidewalk, I witnessed Mr Hall yelling at Ms Patterson. "You need to move, you are blocking the sidewalk, you are a bum and just cause trash," First he took pictures, then he began shouting at her. Then he filed false charges. Pleading paper with lines on it. Lines and numbers and legal language erasing, eradicating, and butchering all humans in their path. .
"I'm not going to do anything about Ms. Paterson, I have known her for many years and she has never hurt anybody," Officer. Chiu, a San Francisco Police Officer told me while shaking his head after he was called out to arrest Ms Patterson based on requirements of the stay away order.
I first found out about the false claims filed by Mr. Hall, because I received a call from the hard-working maintenance staff at 605 Market St (who knew I was worried about Ms. Patterson's safety) They told me the police were called to take action on the stay away order. What then took place was perhaps even more jarring and confusing for me as a Prison Industrial Complex survivor and police terror victim. The first officer who was called out, Officer Chiu, refused to do anything and knew the charges were false based on his knowledge of Ms Patterson. He was followed by yet another SFPD officer who noted that the stay away order which demanded that Ms Hall stay 50 yards away was based on Mr. Hall's office which as the SFPD officer clarified, was on the 9th floor of the building and therefore Ms Patterson, was in fact, 50 yards away from Mr Hall.
In the end Mr. Hall, who owned the access to paper, land, phone-lines, Amerikkka Just-US, rental leases, time, organization, linguistic domination skills, etc, won. The 3rd and final police call generated four officers in addition to the original ones and Ms. Patterson was removed from her constitutionally protected location based on completely false charges that she threatened Mr. Hall with a weapon on the day he took pictures of her.
As soon as I heard about the false charges on the stay-away order I called several people in the community who work to ensure that unprotected peoples are taken care of, unheard heroes of the revolution who realize that we must work interdependently at all times to keep our injured brothers and sisters safe. One of these unsung heroes is Bob Offer-Westort who works tirelessly in support of criminalized, landless peoples at the The Coalition on Homelessness.
After my plea to the community that Ms Patterson needed a lawyer by any means necessary, Bob made several calls and secured the help of Sarah Barnes with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
One week later Sarah and I found Ms Patterson in the darkened doorway of the liquor store several blocks away from 2nd and Market. I had told Sarah that we would have to meet Ms. Patterson outside as she was living with Poverty Trauma Stress Syndrome (my version of the Western Euro-centric Psychiatric Diagnosis of PTSD) and she would not be able to go anywhere, much-less a lawyers office. Sarah understood. She's got skills like that.
On July 1, Sarah Barnes, myself, co-editor of POOR Magazine and fellow revolutionary for the people, Tony Robles, and POOR Magazine staff writer and poverty scholar Ruyata Akio McGlothlin went to court to re-port and sup-port on the fake stay away order.
The court room was packed. Every seat filled. Every human silenced by the implied power of that space. The laws of Amerikkka Just-US built , promoted and adjudicated. While the fake solemnity of the courtroom purred along, there was an odd metaphor taking place outside the one plate glass window to the left of the judges bench. A large concrete crane moved dirt and steel and the remnants of a vacant building into a pile of rubble.
"She has been there with a large shopping cart for many years". Mr. Hall spoke first, presenting a series of photographs of Ms Patterson as she sat quietly on 2nd Street, of course Mr. hall never asked Ms Patterson if he could take her picture. Fleshing out the racist fetishized stereotype of the large and dangerous homeless Black woman. Mr. Hall painted a picture of a woman standing over 5 foot 8 inches tall weighing over 260 pounds with a loud, booming voice He proceeded with a laundry list of Ms. Patterson's crimes of poverty.
"She has a tendency to take recyclables and use them as sleeping material and leave them after she uses them"
"This graffiti appeared after she stood there. I'm not saying she caused the graffiti, but she has a tendency to attract this kind of behavior".
The crane moved up and down outside the window as he spoke. Biting the edges of the earth with every lunge. The earth, tired, quiet, forlorn, had nothing to say. No energy left to fight. Its strength long ago crushed
And then he concluded, with the saddest statement of all which he attributed to Ms Patterson, "She said there was no place for her to go and if she went she would take me with her".
It was at this point that the judge exclaimed with a certain amount of frustration, "Can we hear from Ms Patterson's attorney".
Sarah began by asking me as witness to the "incident"to describe Ms Patterson. I told the court how she was actually shorter than me, barely audible at any given time, had never hurt anyone, and like most people who are landless/houseless appeared large because she was covered in many layers of clothing, She then asked me to recount my recollection of the day of the alleged "threat". I described how Ms Patterson had never uttered any threats to anyone, much-less brandishing weapons at folks and the only "crime" she could be accused of is the crime of living without a home in San Francisco, that Mr. Hall had actually taken pictures of Ms. Patterson and harassed her without reason and that Mr. Hall had a history of doing that since he launched his law office there.
Outside the window the crane stopped pumping in and out of the earth. It seemed to be taking a break from its tireless destruction. And then the judge spoke, "I understand how this situation can be frustrating for you Mr. Hall, but I am going to decline this stay away order as I find there is no credible threat of violence".
There is no credible threat of violence. In those simple words, the fabric of Amerikkka Just-US, weighted by how much money you have, how white your skin is, how much credit you have access to, and degrees you hold from formal institutions of learning,, tore ever so slightly, and Ms Patterson, me, Tony, Ruyata and Sarah jumped through. We won. Ms Patterson didn't win land, reparations, a roof, proper care, love or respect. She just won the truth. The truth that she was a landless African Descendent elder who had the right, albeit not much of a right, but a right nonetheless, to reside houselessly on public land in one of the richest cities in the world
Postscript.. When I told Ms. Patterson about what happened in court she smiled, one of the only times I have ever seen her smile. And then very quietly she added, "thank-you". I asked if she would be willing to have me write her story and take a picture of her. And she said, "Yes," granting me one more smile. I felt truly blessed.