PoLice Terrorized For Being Houseless- My Mama's Story

Tiny - Posted on 03 August 2020

Sudden knocking in the middle of the night on the battered door of the taped together 1970 Ford Station Wagon. Lights shining through the window, so much harsher than usual against the darkness that blanketed the area where the car was parked. A scared daughter and her weary mother, tired after many of these nights, most of them ending with one of them in jail, after being nearly beaten. 


“You know you can't be parked here this late,” the officers always say, and as the daughter looks out the window she sees the relieved faces of the neighbor with the phone in her hand, having called 911 on them as many have before. These kinds of situations happen all of the time in America, but one very similar was the killing of Luis Gongora Pat, a homeless man who had a 311 call as his execution. 


As I grew up, my mother made sure I know all of these stories, telling them to me as another would tell bedtime stories to their child. She told me them, not as someone who heard about them from a friend of a friend, or someone who has seen that happen on the street and quickly walked away, but as someone who lived through them. My mother told me the story of Luis Gongora Pat, a homeless man in San Francisco who was in the same position she was, who was shot and killed by police for the simple act of playing with a soccer ball on the street where a gentrifier lived. One 311 call was all it took, and one 311, or 911 call could have been all it took to kill my mother or grandmother. She was the daughter, and her and my grandmother were homeless. This is my legacy, and these are my stories.


I haven't come into contact with the police as much as my mother and grandmother have. This is due to substantially better housing situations, (meaning we actually had one, until we were evicted, and the cycle continued) my white privilege and my financial stability, made it so that breaking the law is an actual choice for me. I don’t have to steal cheese from Walgreens to feed my family, I don't have to park my car overnight secretly because I have a house to go back to. I am able to remain safe and lawful because of the privilege that comes with having a house and a life that isn't filled with constant terror and stress. However, I have had to move from house to house, not knowing when me and my mother will end up on the streets. I have lived in poverty, and it is only because of the landless peoples solution, Homefulness, that I currently have a stable living situation. Those moves and those sudden evictions were not just that. Those bred a fear within me about housing and financial stability that continue to plague my decision making and the way I see the world.


In our family, when the police are called, there is fear. We know exactly what the state organization that is meant to protect us will resort to if the situation gets a little hairy. Calling the police in our family means that as a child, my mother would be taken away because a neighbor called on my grandmother saying she saw a teenager living in her car with her mother. The police would be called because my mother and grandmother were sitting on the sidewalk for too long in too nice of a neighborhood. The police would be called because my mother at 14 didnt have a permit to sell painted clothing that would make sure they ate that week. “Little murders of the soul” as my grandmother would call them, were mostly caused when the police or other state agencies came knocking at your door. 


It is illegal to be homeless in America, and police love to prey on those people living on the streets because their job allows them to. Being houseless means by the standards of the United States you deserve to be treated like garbage. As a class-based system, our government needs to have people of higher class looking down on the lower class, and that goes all the way down the ladder. Houseless people need to be stepped on by everyone else, and that oppression ends most of the time in the death of the houseless person, which to the general public is not seen like a big deal. Police are used to arresting and brutalizing hosueless people on a daily basis, and my mother and grandmother very well might have ended up just like Luis Gongora if one wrong move was made. 


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