As homeless defendants face camping charges, Denver courts lie to jurors.
DENVER, COLORADO- Trial began yesterday for three homeless activists charged with violating Denver’s Unauthorized Camping Law. An ordinance enacted in 2012 partly as a coordinated response to Occupy Wall Street encampments across the country, partly to smooth the city’s gentrification plans. Though six years old, the ordinance has escaped judicial scrutiny by DPD’s careful avoidance of citing only homeless victims in no position to fight the charges in court. Deliberate civil disobedience attempts have been thwarted by the city bringing other charges in lieu of the “Urban Camping Ban” for which police threatened arrests. Thus Denver Homeless Out Loud’s coup of at last dragging this sham into the Lindsey Flanigan Courthouse has generated plenty of interest. I counted four print reporters and three municipal court judges in the audience! From a jury pool of forty, city prosecutors were able to reject the many who stated outright they could not condemn the homeless defendants for the mere act of trying to survive. At one point the jury selection process was stymied for an hour trying to fill one remaining alternate seat because each successive candidate would not “check their social values at the door.” One potential juror, a hairdresser, became alarmed that all the sympathetic candidates would be purged and so she refused to say how she felt about the homeless. She was removed and they were. As usual jurors were told it was not their place to decide against enforcing bad law. Only those who agreed were allowed to stay. And of course that’s a lie. The only way bad laws are struck down, besides an act of congress, a please reflect how that near impossibility has spawned its own idiom, is when good jurors search their conscience and stand up for defendants.
For those who might have wanted to get out of jury duty, it was an easy day. Show some humanity, provoke authentic laughter of agreement by declaring “Ain’t no way I’m convicting people for camping.” The jury pool heard that Denver’s definition of camping is “to dwell in place with ANY FORM OF SHELTER” which could be a tent, sleeping bag, blanket, even newspaper.
Several jury candidates stated they had relatives who were homeless. Another suggested it would be an injustice to press charges such as these.
“So this isn’t a case for you” the city lawyer asked.
“This isn’t a case for anyone” the prospective juror exclaimed, to a wave of enthusiam from the jury pool and audience.
Another prospect said she didn’t think this case should be prosecuted. The city attorney then asked, “so you couldn’t be fair?”
“I am being fair” she answered. All of these juror prospects were eliminated.
What remained of the jury pool were citizens who swear to uphold whatever law, however vile. One juror that remained even said she gives the benefit of the doubt to police officers. Not removed.
But there is hope because they couldn’t remove everyone. Of the six that remain, one juror agreed to follow the law, even if it was a law which he knew was wrong. That juror works in the legal cannabis industry. He admits he breaks federal law every day. That law is worng he says, but if he has to, he’ll abide by this one.
He admitted, “I can find them guilty. But I’ll have to live with that guilt for the rest of my life.” Ha. Technically the city had to live with that answer.
Another juror recognized that this case was about more than the three homeless defendants. “This case affects not just these three, but the countless homeless outside” gesturing to the whole of downtown Denver.
In closing arguments the city lawyers reminded the jury that they swore to uphold the law. No they didn’t, but we’ll see what verdict emerges. After only a couple minutes from beginning deliberations, a juror emerged with this question: if the defendants are found guilty, can the juror pay their fine?
Well the City of Denver breathes a sign of relief tonight. By which I mean, Denver’s injustice system, Denver’s cops, Denver’s gentrifiers and ordinary residents who are uncomfortable with sharing their streets with the city’s homeless. Today’s offenders were CONVICTED of violating the ordinance that criminalizes the poor for merely trying to shelter from the elements. Today the police and prosecutors and judge and jury acted as one to deliver a message to Denver homeless: no matter the hour, no matter how cold, pick up your things and move along.
This time it wasn’t a jury of yuppy realtors and business consultants that wiped their feet on homeless defendants. It was a cross section of a jury pool that yesterday looked promising.
Today when the jury entered with their verdict the courtroom audience was able to see which juror had been appointed the jury foreman. The revelation wasn’t comforting. Though not the typically dominating white male, this foreman was a female Air Force officer who had declared during voir dire that she had no greater loyalty than law and order. As the jury pool overflowed that first day with professions of sympathy for the homeless, it was the Air Force office, Juror Number Two, who grabbed the microphone to assert that rule of law must always prevail.
Yes, in the interest of optimism I had glossed over those lesser interesting juror statements, in hope that they were only playing to what prosecutors wanted to hear. Left on the jury was a domineering older woman who had said she gives police officers the benefit of the doubt.
An older man, an organist, whose father had been the CEO of a major Fortune 500 company, actually thought that homeless people should be arrested.
I’ll admit now that everyone’s hopes had been pinned on the pot guy who swore he’d have to live with his guilt forever. And so now it’s come to pass.
When those very small people of the jury go home tonight, and eventually read what they’ve done, upheld Denver’s odious, UN-condemned anti-homeless law, they’re going to figure out that they were made to administer the system’s final blow. And Denver couldn’t have done it without them.
The prosecutor had told the jury in her closing statement, that despite the tragic circumstances, everyone was doing their job, the police, the city attorneys, and the judge, and now the jury was expected to do its job. Except that was another lie. It wasn’t the jury’s “job”. They didn’t enlist and they weren’t paid to be executors of the city’s inhuman injustice machine. Whether by ignorance, poor education, or the courtroom team’s duplicity, this jury chose to do it.
But the ignorance runs deep. Judge Lombardi, in her closing remarks to the defendants, reiterated that all the elements had been proved and that justice was served. She praised the jury’s verdict and explained that the only way they could have found otherwise was through “jury nullification”. She said those words after the jury had been dismissed, but she said them on the record, two words that lawyers and defendants are forbidden to utter. In full Judge Lombardi added “and juries are not allowed to do jury nullification.” As if we all can be misled by that lie.