This page includes pieces on:

1.  our concerns about the parks exclusion law why provisions of it should be repealed

2.  car impound law and why key provisions of this law should be repealed

3.  critique of the broken window theory and justification for these anti-homeless social control law



Seattle Displacement Coalition

4554 12th NE * Seattle * Washington * 98105 * ph:206-632-0668 * fax: 206-632-2954



The “Parks Exclusion Law”

Must Be Repealed!


                Groups calling for repeal of this law include:  Seattle Displacement Coalition, Archiocesean Housing Authority (AHA), Tenants Union, ACLU, Mothers for Police Accountability, Seattle Community Council Federation, Capitol Hill Community Council, Operation Homestead, SHARE/WHEEL, Real Change, and others


            In the April 10 edition of the P.I., Editorial Cartoonist, David Horsey, makes use of the image of a man with a “bleeding heart” to characterize those of us who are opposed to Seattle’s Parks Exclusion Law. Horsey’s depiction also shows a well dressed quiet middle class family having a picnic in the park while next to them, an officer is hauling away a wild man in a baseball cap and work shirt with a syringe hanging out of his arm. 

            But a look at police data recently collected through a disclosure request by the ACLU reveals just how ill informed Horsey is on this issue.  In fact, a more accurate reflection of how the police enforce the parks exclusion law would be a depiction of that family in the park where the child is skateboarding, the mother is letting her dog run off leash and the father is littering while knocking back a bottle of “bud”.  All of these are prohibited park activities worthy of an seven-day parks exclusion order, but the police walk on by, on their way to excluding a group of older black males rolled up in sleeping bags a few feet away.

            The Parks Exclusion Law gives police and parks personnel the authority to bar people engaged in “unlawful activity” from a park and surrounding parks for up to one year.  While anyone can be barred for violation of any park rule (of which there are many - from minor to major offenses), the police are issuing expulsions aimed primarily at the homeless and people of color. Generally the expulsions are for seven-days - for relatively minor offenses.  According to ACLU data, in six months since passage of the law, over 1000 exclusion orders have been issued - 30 percent of the exclusions were issued for “trespass” and approximately 50 percent were issued for drinking. Only about 10 percent were drug related - not the majority of cases as Horsey’s cartoon implies. 


Police admit that most of the 300 trespass exclusions were issued to people camping out at night in our parks after park hours


            Police admit that most of the 300 trespass exclusions were issued to people camping out at night in our parks after park hours. Evidently, it doesn’t matter to Horsey that this is a city with over 5500 homeless on our streets on any given day, but where there are only 2300 available shelter beds each night. It is this absence of shelter beds (not to mention an inadequate supply of permanent low cost housing) which explains why so many homeless are forced to camp out at night.  Sleeping out in wet, cold weather is not a lifestyle choice as Horsey’s cartoon implies, but a product of widespread poverty, homelessness, and a lack of services in our community.

            Regarding the approximately 500 exclusion orders issued for drinking, our organization has received several reports from homeless people who say that if they are gathered in a group and only one or two of them are drinking, all of them still receive an expulsion. And since there is no judicial review or opportunity to appeal for those receiving exclusions (since an appeal could not be filed until after the 7-day exclusion period has expired) and police do not provide detailed reports on the nature of each exclusion, there is no way of determining how often the police abuse the broad authority they are given under this law.  While most of the homeless do not have substance abuse or mental health problems, about 30-40 percent of the homeless fall into this category.  But these are people in desperate need of community based treatment and housing, rather than another day in jail, more fines, and exclusion orders. 

            Also remember that police already have broad authority to arrest people engaged in criminal activity and can cite or even arrest people who are drinking or engaged in other misdemeanor activity.  At least there are opportunities for appeal of these decisions and there is due process.  With the parks exclusion law, however, police and even parks personnel are given still more authority to act as judge and jury - to decide whether or not a person should also be barred from our parks.  Those barred are then denied constitutional guarantees - not even given due process or an opportunity for review or appeal.  As a consequence, it also means that there is no opportunity by a judge or other third party to review the validity of each exclusion order or to scrutinize police conduct more closely. 

            Last year, after police drove the homeless from their nighttime sleeping areas around the Municipal Building, and swept our greenbelts of night time “campers”, a homeless person was run over and killed where he slept in an alley in the International District.  Not long after a homeless women was run over in an alley in the Denny Regrade and lost her leg.  Closure of campsites in our parks and greenbelts, and issuance of parks exclusion orders carries with it real human consequences, which Horsey’s cartoon grossly trivializes.


        Parks Exclusion Law Targets People of Color


            Last week, a Native American man gave emotional and eloquent testimony before the City Council describing how the police routinely single out non-whites for enforcement of this law over other groups.  To highlight the point, he reported on an officer who callously swatted away a Native American women’s cup with his baton, finding out only after the fact that it was filled with coffee rather than alcohol. In fact, police data indicates that people of color have been singled out, receiving over 40 percent of all expulsions, twice the percentage of minorities in our city.

            In Seattle, the homeless are forced to sleep out in our parks and greenbelts where they are subject to routine police sweeps.  Right now, another one is being planned for the West Beacon Hill greenbelt in the area along I-5 known as “The Jungle.” The homeless are cited for sitting on our sidewalks.  They are can even be arrested under vague provisions of the City’s “pedestrian interference” law that allow police to single them out for “causing someone to take evasive action.”  The homeless are subjected to $500 camping fines just for putting their bedroll down in a park during the day, and trespass citations or “admonishments” are routine.  Now, police are passing out parks exclusion orders without a right of appeal or any due process. While this seams more like Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”, Horsey offers up trite little cartoons of police hauling off criminals.  Such depictions only serve to further stigmatize the poor and give even broader license to single out the homeless.  Already, the homeless are subject to random acts of violence directed at them by the public and all too often, the police.


We Need Your Help!


            Those people and groups who are interested in repealing this measure are urged to call all City Councilmembers but especially Richard McIver (684-8800), Tina Podlodowski (684-8808), and also Nick Licata.  As head of the City Council’s Parks Committee, Licata has special responsibility to initiate repeal of this law, particularly since he campaigned last Fall on a pledge to support its repeal.


For More Information, contact 632-0668

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Please Repeal the Car Impound Law

Seattle Displacement Coalition

4554 12th NE * Seattle * Washington * 98105 * fax: 206-642-1656 * ph: 206-632-0668 *



April 7, 2000


The Honorable Nick Licata

11th Floor Municipal Building

600 4th Avenue

Seattle, Washington 98105


ATTN:  Amendments to the City’s Car Impound Law


Dear Councilmember Licata,




The conclusion that people of color are targeted is supported by data from the Seattle Police Department that indicates 43 percent of all persons cited for DWLS and who had their cars towed in 1999 were African American, while over half were people of color.  This is IN A CITY THAT IS OVER 75 PERCENT WHITE!


In spite of this inordinate and discriminatory impact, several claims have been made by our City Attorney, Mark Sidran, to justify retention of the city’s car impound law…which we strongly believe do not stand-up under closer scrutiny.  


1) Sidran has said that the law only targets dangerous and reckless drivers (class 1 and class 2 offenders) – but in first year under the new law – fully 85 percent of all car impounds have gone to people who failed to pay a fine, usually for a minor traffic violation (class 3 offenders) Furthermore, most of these folks are people who simply cannot afford to pay those fines. 


2) Sidran says that there are options available through the courts for time payments, reduced payments etc., but as public defenders, social service agencies, and victims of this law attest, such programs are not readily or easily accessed, and the courts and police provide misleading information on any options that might be available.  Furthermore, once you’re car is impounded, there are virtually no mechanisms in place for time payments, community service, reduced fines or quick recovery of your car. It can take more than 15 days to recover your car and with daily storage charges, fines that must be paid, and towing costs, most people were required to pay a minimum of $1000 to recover their car. Because of these crippling costs, one-half of the 5000 cars that were towed under this law were not recovered by their owners.  These cars were sold at auction for huge profits to the tow companies while those who lost their car endured great hardship.


3) Sidran has said the car impound law has reduced court case loads and that fewer people are going to jail because of the law, but jail filings and case loads dropped last year for all offenses and by equal amounts. In effect jail filings and caseloads were down across the board for all offenses.  The car impound law had nothing to do with these overall reductions.


4) Sidran has said that it makes much more sense to jail cars rather than people, but in over 90 percent of the 1999 impound cases, the prosecutors also pursued charges and many went to jail. In fact, there was no perceptible drop in jail bookings for DWLS as a percentage of all jail bookings from 98 (the year prior to passage of the law) to 99 when the car impoundment law was in effect.  In comments Sidran made at the April 6th hearing on this law, he acknowledged prosecutions continued at high levels throughout 1999 despite the new impound law, but he assured the Council that he would soon be implementing new programs to reduce the number of prosecutions. 


[This is not the first time Sidran has used this argument to influence the City Council.  In ’97, he convinced the Council to pass this impound law in the first places using the argument that impoundment would replace prosecution.  It simply has not happened. Instead of relying on Sidran’s word (informed more by his political biases that the facts), a more rationale approach would be to alter the law.  At least until there are adequate programs in place to funnel all class 3 offenders into time payment plans, reduced fee requirements, or community service alternatives, rather than impoundment, this group should be exempted from the law.]


5) Sidran cites studies from other states showing that those driving with a suspended licenses are more likely to cause accidents and therefore it is justified to tow their cars, but studies he cites are from states where only the dangerous, drunken, or reckless offenders are caught driving with suspended licenses. In California, for example, those with minor traffic violations are funneled into time payment plans, given reduced fees, or allowed to do community services so there are few DWSL’s on the road who have failed to pay a fine.  This group simply does not show up in that pool of people caught driving without a license, as is the case here in Seattle.


6) Sidran has said that in cases of traffic collisions involving drivers with suspended license – 75 percent of those cases involved a 3rd degree offender (those DWLS’s for failure to pay fines).  Sidran claims this statistic demonstrates that class 3 offenders are more likely to cause accidents and the city’s impound law keeps this dangerous group off the road.  His statistics prove nothing. Given that fully 85 percent of all DWLS offenders are class 3 offenders rather than class 1 or class 2, it only proves the obvious – odds are that the class 3 group is more likely to show up when a collision occurs involving a driver with a suspended license.  



The jury is no longer out on this law.  Over 5000 cars have been impounded in a little over a year – over half of those towed were the cars of people of color – 43 percent black.  Eighty-five percent were towed for minor violations and failure to pay fines – many that simply could not afford to pay those fines and where time payments were not an option.  We know the police target black people, target the central area, stop those with late model cars, ticket for minor violations and then when they cannot afford to pay, the next time they get stopped for a DWB (driving while black) not only do they go to jail, their car is impounded.  The tow charges, jail time, storage fees are crippling and for many that depend on cars to get to work it literally means a loss of livelihood.  Understandably a staggering number of people – nearly half of the 5000 who have had their cars towed never attempted to recover them.  (Sidran says that the impound law is helping reduce the recidivism rate implying that first time offenders choose not to re-offend when faced with this sanction.  The reduced number of re-offenders has more to do with the fact that so many simply have had their cars taken away from them).  The tow companies, impound lots, and the city reap a profit while the poor get nothing but more hardship – that is what this law is producing.


Let’s set aside the numbers game, the intellectual arguments, and the elaborate rationales.  They are just words from the Mark Sidran’s of this world used to veil what, at its core, is an institutionalized form “racism”, pure and simple.  And it might be forgivable that the Council adopted this law in the first place, unaware of what they were doing.  But, in light of how clearly this law has hurt communities of color and low income people, it would be absolutely unforgivable if this law wasn’t immediately repealed or substantially amended! 




The tow law in its present form is blatantly discriminatory and racist. The tow law, if it is to be applied at all, should be aimed solely at those driving with suspended licenses for clearly reckless and dangerous driving (and even in these cases, due process should be built into the law).  The tow law, should not apply at all for those driving with suspended licenses for minor offenses, nor should it apply to those accumulating four or more parking tickets – not in a town where a low income tenants are routinely denied a parking permit in single-family residential parking zones.  Furthermore, when people receive tickets for any offense, they should be guaranteed access to time payment plans and/or given case-by-case arrangements including the alternative of community service.  And these plans should be made available for those who admit guilt to those offenses, not just those who are awarded such a plan in a contested case.  For those who do get their cars towed, a system must be established that guarantees rapid recovery and the opportunity for time payments and reduced fees for hardship cases. 


Thank you for your consideration.



John V. Fox

For the Coalition

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Seattle Displacement Coalition Flier

4554 12th NE * Seattle * Washington * 98105 * ph:206-632-0668 * fax: 206-632-2954


"Sitting is Not a Crime!"


Critique of the "Broken Window Theory and Response to Position of those Supporting the "no-sitting law" and other anti-homeless  social control laws  (The Broken Window Analysis first articulated by George Kelling provides the theoretical basis for a host of anti-homeless laws implement across the country and in Seattle)


George Kelling is a nationally known“academic” who has written a book “Fixing Broken Windows” with a forward by JQ Wilson that is used by Police and everyone from neoliberals to right wing politicians across the country to justify driving the poor and homeless out of inner city neighborhoods.  Sidran brought these people in four years ago, to provide justification for passage of the no-sitting law.  Their work, used in police classrooms across the country, provides the intellectual grist to justify passage of the no-sitting law, pedestrian interference law, and other anti-homeless measures that tread heavily on the civil rights of the poor.  The Bill of Rights,  constitutional protections like due process, Miranda, probable cause, the right to free association and assembly - all are treated by them primarily as obstacles which stand in the way of effective “community policing”.


According to their “broken window theory”, homeless people that inhabit our streets are to be equated with broken windows.  Like the run down car or broken window, if it is allowed to remain, gives rise to more broken windows, more abandoned cars in the neighborhood.  Eventually, the quality of the community is totally lost.  In this sense, the homeless person sitting on the sidewalk is like that broken window.  If that one homeless person is allowed to remain, then it leads to two homeless persons, then a whole group and before you know it.....well..there goes the neighborhood. If groups of homeless people are allowed to congregate, it leads to erosion of liveability, crime, abandonment, bla, bla, bla.  Better to exorcise those little problems before they become big ones. 


Note that when Kelling takes on his critics, he professes to be concerned about the homeless on our streets, but still offers nothing in the way of solutions for these people, other than pushing them around or locking them up.  Furthermore, when you read his book, he makes it clear that he believes there are only a few truly “deserving” homeless that inhabit our streets (see sections of his book where he discusses homelessness).  The great majority, at least two-thirds or more of the people out there, are not homeless at all in his mind.  They are out there on the streets “voluntarily” - either because they are trying to take advantage of the system, ripping people off or otherwise engaged in uncivil or criminal behaviour, or they are out there because they have an alcohol/drug/mentall health related problem.  He then goes on to lump these groups together - those with disabilities and those who are ripping the system off. Kelling is attempting to leave with the reader with the impression and nearly all of those on our streets are engaged in criminal and/or uncivil “disorderly” behaviors. This analysis then makes it easy for him, and the Sidran’s of this world, to justify passage of laws like the no-sitting law and parks exclusion law.  Most of the people on our streets are criminals anyway.  Kelling has praised Sidran as a “hero” by the way for his efforts to clean up the streets.  


Quoting liberally from the Burnes and Baum thesis (“A Nation in Denial: The Truth About Homelessness”), they claim homelessness is exaggerated, not really due to deep rooted poverty, job losses, and the loss of thousands of low income units nation-wide, but rather due to the fact that there are a lot of pathological people out there - out their due to their own lack of responsibility or their individual problems. This is an extreme right wing notion that totally ignores the root causes of homelessness and poverty  in our community.  An individual’s mental health problems may make one more susceptible to homelessness, but it is not a cause of the widespread homelessness - something that has only occurred just in the last decade in cities across the country.  (I guess Kelling would have us believe that in the last decade, there has been some unusual and totally miraculous outbreak of mental illness and decline of individual responsibility that has spread across the country.) Kelling and Burnes and Baum purposely skirt real explanations - rooted in structural conditions. Note that in 1994, a national HUD study of homelessness, indicated that in that given year, as many as 10 million people experienced some degree of homelessness - that the problem was “widespread and structurally-rooted in job loss and housing loss.”


Professing not to care about structual causes, Kelling and JQ Wilson are the Dirty Harry’s of Urban Planning.  Their only goal seems to be cleaning up our streets - “fixing those broken windows”.  And toward this end, it is important for the police to be given broad discretion in controlling street level activity.  The paramount concern of community policing should be “order maintenance” not necessarily crime control.  Passage of laws like the no-sitting law, use of trespass admonishments, parks exclusion laws, anti-loitering laws are important. (anti-loitering laws are tricky they acknowledge because they are unconstitutional, so how do you get around that - you pass laws like the no-sitting law.) These laws give the police the broad authority to maintain order.  Police see a group of homeless (and Kelling might use other names for the homeless like vagrants, non-neighborhood residents, suspected drug dealers, other euphemisms to guarantee that we equate everyone on the street as dangerous others).  The police are encouraged to engage these people, get to know them, get in their face, but it also means giving these people a lot of citations and tickets for minor violations, guilty or otherwise.  Knowing full well that most of these people are unlikely to appeal their ticket or even pay it.  At that point, warrants are taken out against them for failure to pay fines.  Failure to pay fines are arrestable offenses.  Over time, everyone runs afoul of minor infractions, gets ticketed, doesn’t pay (they can’t afford it anyway), and winds up with a warrant. 


This is viewed positively under the broken window theory.  The aggressive work of police dealing with minor infractions gives police complete control over the street and homeless population.  Now the police have the total control over people that they need to maintain order.  The police can order that homeless person or group of homeless people out of areas, kick them out of places where merchants don’t want them, move them along at their total whim or when requested by merchants or anyone else. At this point, the homeless have absolutely no rights and the police have total control over who can be there in that place and when they can be there.


Given the array of anti-homeless laws already in place in Seattle - such as the  pedestrian interference law which gives police broad power to cite people who in the police’s mind are “causing someone to take evasive action”  the no-sitting law, the no-camping laws which can be applied even during the day in parks, the parks exclusion law (which is a law straight out of the Kelling text book), the use of trespass laws, public urination laws (where else can they go if there are inadequate restrooms) and trespass admonishments, night time closure of parks etc. - it is now very easy for every homeless person to run afoul of a law.  They can’t pay fines and then over time they have a warrant hanging over their heads.  Voila, the police have total control. Casting the net broadly over as many homeless people or street people as possible is the whole idea - to heck with civil rights, the constitution, etc. 


In fact, a reading of their works, show almost a disdain for the Bill or Rights.  It is clearly an obstacle to the effective implementation of order maintenance strategies.  Reasonable or probable cause, Miranda, due process, judicial review - bah, get rid of them, ignore them, circumvent them.  The police need complete control over the street environment.  That is the Kelling/JQ Wilson Strategy.


Throughout the Kelling analysis, it is as if the homeless just appeared out of a vacuum.  The structural conditions that give rise to homelessness are ignored such as destruction of low income housing, corporate welfare that has encouraged destruction of existing low cost housing for highrise construction and parking lots, an absence of shelters and necessary community based mental health and drug/alcohol treatment - these root causes for increasing numbers on the streets are not understood by these writers.  It’s as if “those people” out on our streets were all aliens - dangerous others - there out of choice, or due to their individual lack of responsibility.  They don’t deserve to be treated like anything but “broken windows”.   It is extraordinarily de-humanizing and stigmatizing, Orwellian.  It is crass social control.  Also, this perspective justifies removal of even more low income housing from areas. And we cannot let more shelters or services into the area - why it only will attract more of the naerthewells.


This superficial thinking is nothing but a rationale to justify continued implementation of draconian measures aimed at driving the poor and homeless out of sight and out of mind. Of course when these measures don’t stem the tide of homelessness - as more and more people become homeless due to poor paying jobs, lack of jobs, skyrocketing housing costs, rising rents, demolition and displacement and our failure to address these conditions ..... well, I guess it only means that we haven’t been tough enough on this street population.  Why we need to pass another Sidran law, more jails, more police, and a further escalation in our get tough approach.  Where will it end.  How far are we willing to go to get the homeless out of sight and out of mind.  Already, it has become palatable to some people to entertain solutions like busing the poor and homeless to internment camps out of town.


That’s why the George Kelling philosophy is dangerous.  It already has led to passage of these kinds of laws in our community at the expense of civil rights and with real human consequences on a whole class of people.  If we buy off on their philosophy, as we are doing more and more in this town, it will only prolong the day when we finally get around to finding real solutions to homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, the lack of shelter, the need for jobs for people with limited skills, the need for a raise in the minimum wage, etc.  Yea, lets drive a few people out of town but lets start by sending the George Kelling’s and Mark Sidrans of this world packing. They already have done enough to poison public policy in this community.



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