James Lee “Faygo” Clark reading SN&R outside of Sacramento City Hall.
In the first legal showdown between the city of Sacramento and leaders of the Right to Rest movement, it was the city that blinked.
According to attorney Mark Merin and the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the city attorney’s office dropped three charges of unlawful camping against homeless activists James Lee “Faygo” Clark and David Andre, architects of a durable occupation outside of City Hall that lasted nearly three months before spawning a smaller version at the state Capitol.
The case was dismissed one day before the parties were to begin a trial with broader implications than the relatively minor infractions in question.
Clark, 35, and Andre, 52, were both arrested in February, while participating in the Right to Rest occupation that began this past December. The occupation was organized to remonstrate the city for enforcing an ordinance that makes it illegal for homeless residents to sleep outdoors or possess survival gear like sleeping bags and blankets.
Violators of the local law face arrest, fines and jail time, as well as the confiscation of their belongings.
While technically the defendants in the case, Clark, Andre and their legal representatives looked at the case as an opportunity to put the city’s policies on trial.
“Part of the reason we took this on was to get it repealed during a jury trial or appeal it if we lost,” Clark told SN&R. “It’s a case they wouldn’t have been able to win.”
Likewise, in a release, the Sacramento chapter of the National Lawyers Guild claimed victory and also expressed disappointment at not being able to pursue a proxy referendum against the city’s controversial treatment of its homeless residents.
“Justice is served,” the statement read. “However, we had hoped to put forward a case showing that these activists, who happen to be homeless, had their rights violated when they were harassed, arrested and jailed—de facto already punished—by the City of Sacramento. There is no question that City did not want to have its unconstitutional and inhumane ‘unlawful camping’ law litigated in court, and appealed if necessary to a higher court.”
City officials didn’t immediately respond to SN&R’s request for comment.
But Clark would like to know how much they spent on police and legal fees just to drop their case in the end.
“What’s the point even of having everyone arrested?” he said in reference to the scores of homeless people charged with unlawful camping.
Read next week’s SN&R for an updated and expanded version of this developing story.