Homeless But Not Helpless -- Protest Challenges Mayor de Blasio's Aggressive NYPD Tactics

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Homeless people and their allies will rallied on 125th Street yesterday, demanding an end to rampant violations of their rights by the NYPD under Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

"We crashed the mayor's phone line," said Al, a member of Picture the Homeless (PTH) who helped organize the protest. "At one point everyone at the rally got out our cell phones and started calling, telling them 'hands off the homeless,' and pretty soon we were all getting busy signals. And when we did get through, they were not happy to be hearing from us. De Blasio and his NYPD will be held accountable for their acts of brutality and their patterns of rights violations."

"The mayor needs to realize the people of this city are not going to lie low and allow the NYPD to use abuse tactics on the homeless," said one member of Picture the Homeless. "He and his NYPD will be accountable for their acts of brutality and their patterns of rights violations."

125th Street has been the epicenter for abusive policing, with aggressive "sweeps" of homeless people happening up to three times a day, and cops telling homeless people they're acting under an "edict" from the Mayor.

Similar NYPD "crackdowns" are happening all over the city - the Daily News reports that 80 sites are scheduled for aggressive police "clean up." Media reports call them "encampments," although no structures have been documented - they're simply places where homeless people congregate.

"Mr. de Blasio, what happened to your campaign promise to house the homeless?" asked PTH member Darlene Bryant. "These people lose their homes to gentrification, and now you want Bill Bratton to push them into the river?"

"Cops have always messed with us, but in the past month it's gotten really bad," said Sarge, a homeless veteran who resides on 125th Street. "Every time the shift changes, a new bunch of cops from the 25th precinct comes to mess with us, tell us to move, threaten us. If you try to tell them 'I know my rights, I don't have to move,' they say 'You're going to move someplace, and if you don't get out of here it'll be someplace you don't like.'  I think it's happening because you've got all this new money coming to Harlem, and the new people don't want to see us. They don't want to be reminded. Where are you supposed to go, if you've been in Harlem all your life? They're real careful not to give people tickets for anything. They don't want a paper trail. They'll take you to the ER, take you to the psych ward, leave you there. Let you find your own way back, but by then it's a new shift and it's someone else's problem."

"The people need to speak up," said Rebekah, a homeless mom who recently moved into a shelter. "They need to say this is not OK. Anyone can end up in this situation. It could happen to you, and it could happen to someone you love.  We're not cattle to be herded around, or garbage to be cleaned up. Where are we supposed to go? You've got mad abandoned buildings all over the place, and you've got young mothers sleeping on the streets with their strollers - why not fix these buildings up and put people in them?"

"The Mayor's not doing things right," said Richard Thomas, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood who currently resides on the street. "He needs to make us some housing instead of pushing poor people around. They want to make it hard for us to be in this city. We're trying to get our lives together and they want to scatter us all over the place. I was born and raised in Harlem, and you used to be able to find an apartment no problem, no red tape. There used to be places working folks could afford, but now the landlords want so much money. So what are we supposed to do, if we're poor?"

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