By Krista Schwimmer
A year ago on August 7th, Samuel Calhoun Arrington, a 52 year old mentally disabled, homeless, African-American man, was sitting under his umbrella where Ocean Front Walk intersects with Sunset Avenue. Like the many thousands of people who visit Venice, he was there to enjoy a day at the beach. Instead, in the early afternoon busy with vendors, tourists, and locals, Arrington was tackled, punched, tazed, hogtied, and thrown into the back of an ambulance by a posse of LAPD officers. His so called crime was breaking banal municipal codes, designed by cities to harass the homeless. This article explores his case, the causes behind his case, and the actual and potential consequences.
The public first became aware of Samuel Calhoun Arrington last September when the Beachhead reported on the incident. Since that time, the video recordings and photographs obtained by the good Samaritans, Katt, and Michael Mandel, are now available for all to see. In the video, we see that Arrington is sitting upright in a chair, facing Ocean Front Walk, his umbrella open on the sand nearby. Five LAPD officers circle around him, with the goal supposedly of getting him to sign a ticket citation for violating a variety of municipal codes such as 42.15(c) vending outside of a designated space and (absurdly) 42.15 (g) use of city property for vending because his umbrella was tied to a city bench with a bungee cord.i
Soon into the video, Arrington points his finger upwards and cries out, “To the Glory of God!” Although Arrington does nothing aggressive, officers take him down while he is still seated in his chair. At one point, all we see is a dark sea of blue uniforms completely enclosing Arrington who is now on his back on the ground. Meanwhile, the videographer, Katt, proclaims, “You do not need to taze him! You do not need to taze him!” She also tells one of the officers, Officer Nafissi, not to touch her. “They are wrong – you’re wrong for putting your hands on me and you’re wrong for that,” Katt continues. From underneath this dark sea, we can still hear Arrington calling out, “To the Glory of God.” We later see him carted off like an animal by LAPD. As they take him away, Katt says, “The man wasn’t bloody; but he left here bloody.”
Through a series of syncronicities, the eyewitness evidence makes it to civil and human right’s attorney, Nazareth Haysbert. Haysbert told the Beachhead that on that day police officers “mistook disability for non-compliance of their orders. This case is all about police misuse of power with respect to our most vulnerable citizens.” As a result of the injuries Arrington sustained, Haysbert first filed a government claim in February, 2015. The claim was denied.
On May 9th, Haysbert then held a press conference in front of LAPD headquarters. There, he announced he was pursuing a federal civil law suit on behalf of Samuel Calhoun Arrington against fourteen LAPD officers. Here, Haysbert also read a written statement from Arrington who originally had planned to be there in person, but could not due to his on-going mental health issues. In his opening comments, Arrington states that “the LAPD started to harass me when I stopped one of their undercover officers from giving a friend of mine, who was also homeless, heroin. After I stopped that officer from giving my friend drugs, I became a target of the LAPD through the years. And as a result of their unnecessary, unjustified, excessive force, I ended up in the hospital at least five times that I can remember.”
Haysbert goes over in detail three of these incidents: June 27, 2011; January 5, 2014; and July 29, 2014. The first incident is particularly important as this is where Arrington incurred a head injury requiring eight staples. Haysbert also told the Beachhead that when he first found Arrington last year, “he was in a very bad way,” with tazer marks and bruises all over his body, and a broken rib.
At the May 9th press conference, Haysbert starts by suggesting that the question that should be in everyone’s mind when watching the August 7th video is would an objectively, reasonable officer have tackled, punched, tazed, hogtied, and thrown a 52-year old man in the back of the ambulance?”ii The answer is absolutely not.
What could possibly lead so many LAPD officers to such an excessive use of force? On the one hand, there is the testimony of Samuel Arrington himself, stating that the abuse began when he stopped his friend from taking heroin from the undercover cops. On the other hand, there is the issue of the current hyper-gentrification of Venice itself, including Ocean Front Walk where developers are seeking to bring larger sized commercial developments. Two of the last incidents around Arrington happened on Ocean Front Walk.
Activists have been arguing for some time that municipal laws are created to harass the homeless. As a state, California is particularly cruel to the homeless. “According to a recent report by the U.C. Berkley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, 58 cities were studied and revealed to have enacted at least 500 anti-homeless laws — nearly nine laws per city on average.”iii
Lack of awareness around how to handle the mentally ill also played a role in this incident. LAPD has a team called SMART, or “System-Wide Mental Assessment Response Team”, that is suppose to work together with field officers when someone is suspected of mental illness. Could they have utilized them here?
When it comes to the homeless, too, one of the actual causes of mental illness is poverty itself. In his article, “Poverty and Mental Illness: You Can’t Have One Without the Other,” Jack Carney brings up a longitudinal study by Christopher Hudson that confirms “the social causation hypothesis.”iv Published in 2005, this little known study was conducted between 1994 and 2000 in Massachusetts. Carney states that the study clearly shows that “social-economic status accounted for four-fifths of the rates of mental illness in a community.”
Unemployment, economic displacement, and housing dislocation are the greatest impacts on creating not only poverty, but mental illnesses such as phobia, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.vi Arrington, like many other Americans, fell on hard times and found himself living in the streets. The compassionate response to a man such as Arrington should certainly not be harassment and beatings; it should be to find him shelter, food, and support.
When Haysbert first tracked down Arrington, he found him behind a store hiding. “He was like a wounded animal when I first found him,” Haysbert told the Beachhead. “And he had no one there. No one. This is what a lot of homeless people with mental illness suffer in our society, particularly in California, and most particularly here in Los Angeles. This is a growing problem. And there is a lot of unseen things that are happening right here in our City. There is pure evil. And this is one moment in time that we were able to capture.”
The most recent homeless count released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) supports Haysbert’s statement. For 2015, the total number of homeless population in LA County is 44,359, an increase of 12% since 2013. vii Of this total, 20,401 homeless are either mentally ill or disabled, an increase of 649 people since 2013.
LAHSA also reports that high rents are driving more Californians into poverty; that the Los Angeles region is one of the top highest places to rent in the United States; and that LA County unemployment rate of 7.5 % is not only above the state rate of 7.1%, but the nation’s rate of 5.6%. Poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing: these are the factors that create the perfect storm for more people like Samuel Calhoun Arrington.
Legally, to accomplish this end, homeless activists are calling for the passage of SB 608, the Right to Rest Act introduced by Senator Carol Liu on February 27, 2015. According to San Francisco Bay Indymedia, “the Right to Rest Act of 2015 seeks to protect the basic human rights of people to rest by outlawing municipal laws that criminalize homelessness and the acts of resting, sharing food and practicing religion in public, thereby forcing a new conversation about how to address homelessness, its causes and its consequences.”viii
Such a bill would prevent the police from using banal municipal codes to ticket the homeless. Advocates, however, do not see this as a stopping point. After all, the goal is to end homelessness, a goal that is unfortunately not at the forefront of Mayor Garcetti’s or Councilperson Mike Bonin’s minds.
The consequence of excessive police force also has a deep, psychological effect on the public at large. In Arrington’s case, a number of people witnessed the brutality first hand, causing trauma and fear, along with a deepening distrust of the role of police itself. I know personally that since the time I first came across this story, my entire view of the LAPD has diminished, along with my sense of safety in my own community.
Sadly, the pattern of police beatings that Arrington incurred continues to have severe consequences on his health. Yet, Arrington thanks God that he lives to see another day. “In closing,” Arrington said at the May 9th press conference, “I ask that everyone treat the homeless and the mentally ill people like we are human beings. I look forward to the day when I am left alone by the Los Angeles Police Department.”
Let’s all help Samuel Calhoun Arrington, and others like him, fulfill this desire. Let’s find a way to allow everyone a day at the beach where, as Arrington put it himself, “the sunshine is free.”ix
To read the original Beachhead article go to: http://bit.ly/1ghBibe
To watch the eyewitness videos on the August 7th incident, go to:
1. Samuel Arrington – OFFICIAL Abridged/Edited – 8:00 min, 45 sec, posted by Nazareth Haysbert bit.ly/1lDl2cx
2. Samuel Arrington – Police Brutality – Full Unedited – 20 min, posted by Nazareth Haysbert bit.ly/1LPxE5e
Other videos of interest:
1. Samuel Calhoun Arrington Documentary – 8:00 minutes bit.ly/1LOovbG
2. Lawyer for Samuel Calhoun Arrington Spoke Today, by PMbeers bit.ly/1OM5feW
i From the LAPD Arrest Report for August 7, 2015
iv “Poverty and Mental Illness: You Can’t Have One Without the Other.” Carney, Jack, DSW. March 7, 2012
vi “Poverty, social inequality and mental health.” Vijaya Murali, Femi Oyebode. BJ Psych Advances. May 2004
vii All LAHSA stats from www.lahsa.org/homelesscount_results
viii See iii
ix See ii
By Krista Schwimmer