RODRIGUEZ-TORRENT: Occupy forced out, but for what?

I met Audrey by chance, while shooting a documentary that sought to portray arguments for and against the eviction of Occupy New Haven. Audrey has spent the last three years of her life on the streets. Until a month ago, she lived in a tent on the upper Green, close to the main Occupy encampment but about 100 feet from her nearest neighbor. Then, on the night of March 13, she was raped by a stranger; England Gamble, 53, a registered sex offender, has been charged with sexual assault. Audrey, whose words come out in a rasping whisper, was unable to even shout for help.

When I met Audrey last Tuesday, I found her living within the main Occupy encampment, sharing a tent with two men whom she had gotten to know and trust during her time in the area. “I’m safer here,” she told me. “Nobody’s going to hurt me anymore.”

That Audrey chose, after being raped, to move into the main Occupy encampment is more than a reminder of Occupy New Haven’s role as a refuge for the homeless and the vulnerable. It is also an indictment of the eviction proponents like Nate Zelinsky (“Occupy: a post-mortem,” April 19) who claim that a humanitarian concern for safety is a major factor informing their stance. Does it really make sense to argue that the homeless are safer in isolated living situations than in a small, tight-knit camp with a security detail?

Turning to lesser offenses, some have cited increased police calls to the Green as evidence of the “dangerous situation” supposedly created by Occupy New Haven. Occupiers, however, claim that they are acting as a “block watch,” calling in crimes that would otherwise have gone unreported and sometimes even breaking up fights between non-Occupiers. It is impossible to say definitively that their characterization of the trend is accurate, but it is equally unreasonable to dismiss it out of hand. Having become the victim of an attempted mugging by a group of teenagers while crossing the Green at 7 p.m. during the winter of my freshman year, I would like to remind readers of what Zelinsky, who grew up in New Haven, should already know: the Green, poorly patrolled and a longtime haven for drug users and the homeless, did not suddenly become dangerous with the arrival of Occupy New Haven.

So what other grave wrong was Occupy perpetrating upon the citizens of New Haven? The answer: taking up a small portion (less than 10 percent) of the Green, and suffocating its grass with their improvised flooring.

Once Occupy had lost its battle in federal court, its members were given less than 24 hours’ notice to pack up and move out before the area was bulldozed. This was more humane than some would have liked: Zelinsky wishes the camp had been razed weeks ago, partly to avoid giving Occupiers the opportunity to work within the American justice system to challenge the eviction in court.

Occupy New Haven has some unmistakable black marks on its record: recall the incoherence of the movement, the diatribes against corporations large and small, and the aggressive way in which Occupiers taunted the police. At the same time, Occupy has refocused our discourse on America’s shameful level of income inequality and the paucity of our social safety net; the encampment has offered shelter to the homeless and the dispossessed; and the movement has brought local activists together to discuss and take action on a range of issues, from the role of corporate lobbying organizations like ALEC to the possible reopening of Dixwell’s “Q House” for local youth. More importantly, Occupy New Haven challenged the status quo.

In response, Occupiers have been met with everything from harassment, apparently by Yale football players, to the theft of Occupy signs, in which members of the Yale College Republicans and Yale Tory Party were implicated.

Imagine if the low bar for eviction proposed by commentators like Zelinsky were applied more broadly. Where would our humanitarian concern and our quest to improve New Haven lead us next? Given the aggression shown by Yale students toward Occupy New Haven, the number of crimes committed on Yale’s campus by Yale students (e.g., sexual assault), and Yale’s own record of appropriating public space for its own purposes (see, for example, parts of Wall Street), I am drawn to one inescapable conclusion:

Evict Yale University.

Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at ethan.rodriguez-torrent@yale.edu.

Comments

  • basho

    ever been to Stockholm?

  • penny_lane

    Trying to reason with Zelinsky’s ilk is like trying to reason with a twelve-year-old with ODD. You may be trying to have a dialogue, but he’s just saying what he knows will get a strong reaction, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.

    If you want to support Occupy (which I certainly do), write without falling back on defensive tactics. By defending our position against nonsense, you lend credence to the nonsense, and make it far more dangerous.

  • eli1

    Are you seriously arguing that portions of the green should be used to house homeless people instead of being available to all residents of New Haven? I’m sorry, but if the 99.9 % of New Haven residents not currently residing on the green want to use one of the few open areas in New Haven, they shouldn’t have to navigate a homeless encampment to enjoy that right. Your argument just shows how pointless ONH has become. What started as a legitimate protest has just turned into an unsanctioned, expensive, tax-payer funded homeless shelter.

    • ChrisPag

      Wait, I’m confused, why would that be “pointless?” Let me pose the following barely-hypothetical:

      “Homeless shelters in New Haven are pretty full, and we’re not building another one soon. We have a big public space in the middle of New Haven. What we could do in the interim is let some of them set up tents and live together–paying to police the area a bit–in order to afford some more safety and dignity. The non-monetary tradeoff is that when you want to use the Green, you can’t really use the 1/5 of it they’re on, and it will look ugly from the street.”

      That seems like a pretty easy tradeoff to me. I guess we can disagree? (And mind you, I am fairly unsupportive of Occupy as a movement–literally just talking about having a homeless encampment.)

    • ethanjrt

      I’m arguing that certain rationales behind the vehemently pro-eviction conservative commentators are disingenuous, inapplicable, and hypocritical. Claiming, for example, that New Haven residents “have to navigate a homeless encampment to enjoy [the Green]” sounds patently ridiculous to anyone who has actually been there (I found you a map! — http://www.occupynewhaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Map-of-Green-with-Measurements.png), and is just another fantastic example of how Occupy has been built up into a massive, doddering straw man in order to be taken down by those who disagree with its politics.

  • sonofmory

    while the ONH may only take up 10% of the green, it is all you see when you drive down college street, and parts of chapel and elm street. it is 90% of the viewing space and an eyesore. If they were accomplishing anything with their encampment i would encourage them to stay, but they are simply using public land for private habitation.

  • Jess

    I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with a YDN column SO MUCH.

  • krfo24

    eli1, are you so close-minded? Are you so wrapped up in your own life to realize that homeless people are human beings who deserve shelter? Do you think we should close homeless shelters too? How dare they live, let alone live out in the public where we are reminded that they exist?

    • eli1

      No, if anything I think we should open more shelters which specifically cater to helping the homeless. I believe that these people should be given shelter in an actual residence. I do not think we should create an impromptu homeless shelter in what used to be a very beautiful public area of new haven.

      • kdaysandtou

        Okay, well there’s not funding for another homeless shelter right now, and even if there were it would take considerable time to build. You clearly don’t care about these people if this is your argument.

        • wellwell

          First, most occupiers are not homeless. Some are. The majority have apartments or living situations, but choose to camp out on the Green. In fact, I’ve witnessed altercations between Occupiers and homeless people who previously were sleeping on benches on the Green. Secondly, kdaysandtou’s argument is completely invalid and makes no logical sense. We can’t put a band-aid on the homeless situation in this city just because there aren’t resources (and how do you know there aren’t?) to build a new homeless shelter or improve the ones we have. A tent encampment, like any shanty town, is a poor solution that turns public opinion against the homeless, especially if it occupies public space and is loud and disruptive at all hours of the day and night.

  • sonofmory

    ONH is not a homeless vs. non-homeless issue. it is an issue or public space being used for private housing and purposes which is against the law. most of the tent are simply symbols of a movement that never accomplished anything and has passed its 15 minutes.

    • Jess

      Yes, and the law is anti-homeless.

      • yayasisterhood

        Jess, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard from a Yale student–or from anyone else, for that matter. At no point in your incoherent comment were you even close to a rational thought. Everyone on this comment board is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. Also, pepper spray.

        • eli2015

          Really yayasisterhood? If her comment was so idiotic, you’d find actual arguments to disagree with it.

        • Jess

          Whaaaa? The reason that the law that sonofmory cited exists is because non-homeless people don’t want to have to look at homeless people and all of their belongings in public places. That’s a pretty anti-homeless-people law. This is a fairly standard critique of zoning laws that Yale students should be able to understand, even if they disagree.

        • ChrisPag

          Dude, you can’t just pull out the Billy Madison line on a one-sentence response. Let’s be reasonable here.

    • SM2013

      As an Occupy supporter, but not a huge fan of New Haven’s instantiation of it, I’m still undecided on how I feel about the eviction. You should know, however, that the green is not ‘public space’–it’s been privately owned for centuries, a fact which has some significance here.

  • redman

    The homeless preferred the Occupy encampment because there weren’t any rules to obey, as there are to stay in a shelter. AKA, no drugs.

  • Yale12

    There were already tons of homeless people on the green. I had a 9 AM class and would walk across the green every morning to about 15 homeless people waking up on various benches and under trees. TBH, I don’t see very many non-homeless using the green on a regular basis. It’s not a particularly nice place to picnic compared to Edgerton Park or Wooster Square.

    • concerned

      This is exactly right. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. Occupiers implemented the mercy of tent shelter for the Green’s homeless. Who would say out loud, and especially in court, that absent organization and a clear protest (the 1%) message, Occupiers were no different, and therefore singled out because of their free speech exercises. Which are supposedly content-neutral protected by the Constitution. Ha! Now we know.