There was a real buzz in the air as the “V” arrived in Sarasota. For such a small core of people, so much was being done. We started by attending a reading at the Commissioner’s Office to overturn Citizen’s United, which went very well. A number of locals from the Occupy movement each read a short brief why “We as citizen’s are against Corporate Personhood”. It was their goal to have these readings documented and on file, so that the issue be raised to the State Level and added to the ballot at election time, if approved.
This group of people, we came to find out, were very active in the community and had recently been in the news because one activist, Chris, had been arrested not too long ago for chalking a sidewalk in 5 Points Park. Yes, indeed! Something considered so harmless and usually encouraged in festivals, etc. and yet he was cuffed and arrested and then charged with obstruction and defacing public property. Our 4 month tour had seen some crazy things, but this was on top as one of the most ridiculous arrests.
It appears 5 Points Park is “policed” by a few very wealthy citizens who live primarily in the two adjacent apartment buildings. One housed a regular talk show host who continually bashed and ridiculed the “Occupy” movement. Therefore this guy, gets back by complaining (regularly and often) to the police about every little thing. We came to find out that the benches originally placed in the park were removed so that the homeless could not sit or sleep in the park. As it is most everywhere, in Florida the homeless are constantly being arrested for any number of things to discourage them being here in the sunny south. Because of the nice weather, Florida tends to attract many of those faced with homelessness, whether through the abuses of alcohol or just being a victim of circumstances beyond their control like loosing a home, a job, etc.
We were told Florida has some of the most strict laws on homeless. That was confirmed when we spoke to a homeless man named Joseph, who proceeded to tell his story of being arrested over 60 times for a variety of charges. Some of which included sleeping in a park, peeing behind a dumpster and crossing through a parking lot…. his arrests have been numerous and consistent. Joseph, it turns out, used to be a train conductor and engineer for over 30 years. He served 6 duties in the Peace Corp and was proud to show his belt buckle received while there. A very laid back guy who appeared fairly well groomed for being homeless was eager to tell his story. He told us that many of the arrests were because he had abused alcohol and was also suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He received a felony when, after passing a building he thought was on fire, he threw a rock through a window and then proceeded to wait for the police to arrive to ‘save’ people. Turns out Joseph is also mentally ill and should be getting help not being arrested and tying up the court system. How does charging and citing have any affect on this problem?
We met Kindra while in Sarasota who asked if we would like to do an interview on a radio show (88.5) in Tampa. We did do that interview and many contacted us afterward to say they had heard us on the radio and really liked what we were doing. We realized that since our mission is to spread the word of Occupy we should be occupying the radio waves as a good resource to assist us.