On a busy sidewalk in San Francisco’s Polk Street neighborhood on May 20, about 25 people took part in a “Stand-In” to protest the arrests of sex workers and “Sit/Lie” – a proposed bill to make it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalk between 7am and 11pm under threat of a fine and jail. Those first to be targeted by Sit/Lie – people of color, young, homeless, immigrants, LGBTQ, sex workers spoke out forcefully against it. Three people came from the SF Coalition on Homelessness who are spearheading the opposition to Sit/Lie, and co-sponsored the event with the US PROS.
Rachel West of US PROS gave an overview of the impact on sex workers of continued harassment and arrests and how Sit/Lie would make it worse. Jazzie Collins, a Black transgender woman, ex- sex worker, from Senior Action Network, made a strong case against Sit/Lie and against criminalizing sex workers. Nell Myhand of Legal Action for Women spoke how laws disproportionately target people of color. A young Black transgender woman passing by stayed for the whole time and spoke against police harassment and being a foster care kid.
Three people from Poor Magazine spoke, Tiny gave a strong statement and Ram, a Black man, read a moving poem he had written against Sit/Lie, David Lewis took photos. Lori Nairne of Wages Due Lesbians addressed how Harvey Milk opposed a previous version of Sit/Lie that was used against gay men in the 70’s and the law was struck down. Annie Hill, a UC Berkeley student, gave insight into the origins of the current nuisance type laws, which are used to criminalize sex workers and homeless people. Those former laws were called the “ugly” laws and used against disabled/poor people/beggars – anyone considered a “nuisance” to be barred from the streets.
Also raised in the speak out was an emerging scandal of some 80-130 police officers whose criminal convictions have not been turned over by the DA’s office. That the very cops arresting sex workers and homeless people and being witnesses against them in court could very well be people with criminal histories and misconduct convictions. On this day, the police were nowhere to be seen but a vigilante guy came by and tried to tear down our banner.
There was a good turn out from the media. A reporter from the New York Times came and a sympathetic article was printed the following day called “Debating whether it’s a Crime to Rest on San Francisco’s Sidewalks”. A reporter from a Black radio station KPOO taped the event, as well as two independent video media people, one Latino, one Asian, and a reporter from the SF Weekly turned up. A radio station CKUT called from Montreal, Canada and did an interview with event organizers.
The Monday following the protest the proposed Sit/Lie bill passed out of the City’s Public Safety committee which was a victory for the movement and a defeat for the Mayor who put forward Sit/Lie. It now goes before the full Board of Supervisors for a vote June 8. Mayor Newsom announced he will take Sit/lie to a voter ballot this November. There have been citywide protests since the bill was introduced in March this year and many people have come to testify at hearings at City Hall, with powerful testimonies against Sit/Lie.
Why are the police spending time going after sex workers and non-violent clients and not catching rapists and other violent men?
“Stand-In” Against the Arrest of Sex Workers
When: Thursday, February 4, 12 noon
Where: Corner of Polk and Sutter in San Francisco
Did you know that since January 1, 36 women and 15 men have been arrested for soliciting? Are you concerned about the impact on sex workers’ safety of police crackdowns like this? Come hear how stepped up arrests push sex workers into more isolated and dangerous areas, and make it harder for people to report violence for fear of arrest.
Politicians blame sex workers for an increase in prostitution. Have they forgotten the economic recession? 70% of sex workers are mothers trying to support their loved ones. If the $11.4 million (or more!) currently spent on prostitution enforcement went to provide housing, welfare and other resources, if there were jobs that paid a living wage, then women, young people and men, wouldn’t be pushed out on the street to survive.
Let the new Chief of Police know that we don’t want mug shots of clients posted online. What a waste of police resources to go after men for consenting sex when rapists go free. Speak out against the racism in prostitution arrests: Black women are seven times more likely to be arrested; immigrant women are routinely targeted for arrest and deportation using the pretext of trafficking; 40% of men arrested are men of color.
Stand with San Franciscans who call for the safety and protection of sex workers to come first. New Zealand has decriminalized prostitution and sex workers are safer and more able to leave prostitution. We want to know, why not here?
For info: US PROStitutes Collective: firstname.lastname@example.org 415-626-4114