One of the most shameful sections in the entire Los Angeles Municipal Code is the reprehensible LAMC 41.18(d), which says in its sinister understated way that “No person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in its monumental Jones decision, has called this “one of the most restrictive municipal laws regulating public spaces in the United States” because, unlike laws passed by sane people, it doesn’t even require blocking anything for a violation. Just sitting, lying, or sleeping.1
As you can imagine if you don’t already know, this law is certainly never enforced against anyone who’s not homeless. We’ve seen, e.g., how Hurricane Kerry Morrison, killer queen of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, can confess publicly to violating it with no consequences. There are many, many such instances. But maybe you’ve noticed the loophole? You can be sure that, as many homeless people as the LAPD’s able to arrest for violating LAMC 41.18(d), there are surely far, far too many who get away unarrested because they’re standing or walking. As long, that is, as they’re not sleepwalking or sleepstanding. Then they can still be arrested.
This is an important unsolved problem in the criminalization of homelessness, at least from the point of view of the criminalizers. That is to say, how can they illegalize not just most, but actually all positions that a homeless body can be in? They have evidently had their finest legal minds working on it, and it turns out that Downtown neighborhood prosecutor Kurt Knecht, has come up with a legal theory on which homeless people can be arrested for standing or walking as well as sitting or lying as long as they’re doing it in an alley that’s open to cars. It’s only a partial solution, to be sure, but it seems to be a new addition to the criminalization toolkit.
The context is found in this September 2017 email from Knecht to LAPD captains Marc Reina and Timothy Harrelson about a homeless encampment in an alley in the 700 block of South Hill Street:2
From: Kurt Knecht <email@example.com>
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2017 7:24 AM
To: Marc Reina;Timothy Harrelson
Cc: Jamilah Jones Linton;Michael Flanagan
Subject: Fwd: Alley at 817 S. Hill, code sections for enforcement
Attachments: 20170912_172817.jpg; 123_l.jpg; Alley Enforcement for Encampments.docx
Captain Reina and Captain Harrelson,
Wanted to provide you an update on the encampment at 718 S. Hill. This encampment led to complaints due to the the drugs, degradation, and garbage which impacted businesses including those who receive deliveries and those who attempt to operate restaurants free of the vermin attributable to the encampment. Using her expert persuasiveness, Officer Linton was able to clear it without the need of a formalized cleanup. These efforts are much appreciated by the people who live and work in the area and by our office.
And that’s all interesting enough I guess, although full of lies. They’re the usual lies, though, and as you’ll see if you click through to the PDF, Jamilah Jones Linton’s whole damn story is redacted, so there’s nothing to be learned from that. But that attachment, Alley Enforcement for Encampments.docx, that’s the real news here. Also here’s a PDF if you don’t have the means to read MS Word, and of course there’s a transcription at the bottom of the post.
It’s some kind of instructional guide for cops on how to arrest homeless people during encampment cleanups, prepared by none other than Kurt Knecht himself. And, as I said above, he has a method for arresting standing homeless people, as long as they’re in alleys. He goes through the familiar territory of LAMC 41.18(d), but then presents something totally new, at least to me.3
The big secret, finally revealed, is that the California Vehicle Code defines an alley to be a roadway if it’s open to vehicular traffic. And §21954 requires pedestrians, which I suppose standing people are, to yield to motor vehicles if they’re outside of a crosswalk. And there are no crosswalks in alleys, I guess, so they can be arrested. I would have thought that in order to fail to yield to a vehicle there has to be a vehicle present to fail to yield to, but maybe the cop car that’s coming up the alley to make the arrests is good enough.
So that’s that story, and maybe it’s the wave of the future for arresting the homeless whether they’re lying down, sitting down, or standing up. I guess we’ll see. Oh, one last thing! It’s important to give credit where credit is due, and I want to be sure to do that even for Kurt Knecht. It really does appear that this theory is his own work. At least the Word Doc does seem to be his. Here’s the metadata to prove it, followed directly by a transcription of the whole thing:
Creator : Kurt Knecht
Last Modified By : Kurt Knecht
Revision Number : 2
Create Date : 2017:09:13 22:17:00Z
Modify Date : 2017:09:13 22:22:00Z
Template : Normal
Total Edit Time : 3 minutes
Pages : 1
Words : 218
Characters : 1246
Application : Microsoft Office Word
Doc Security : None
Lines : 10
Paragraphs : 2
Scale Crop : No
Heading Pairs : Title, 1
Titles Of Parts :
Company : City of Los Angeles
Aliev Enforcement for Encampments
I. Sitting, Lying, Sleeping in alley
If the individual is sitting, sleeping, or lying in alley, then LAMC 41.18(d) applies:
41.18(d) (Amended by Ord. No. 137,269, Eff. 10/21/68.) No person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way.
(note that under LAMC 11.01(a), street includes alley)
LAMC 11.01(a) “Street” shall include all streets, highways, avenues lanes, alleys, courts places, squares, curbs or other public ways in this City which have been or may hereafter be dedicated and open to public use, or such other public property so designated in any law of this State.
II. Standing in an alley
If the individual is standing, then CVC 21954 applies:
§21954. Pedestrians outside crosswalks
(a) Every pedestrian upon a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway so near as to constitute an immediate hazard.
According to manager David Gutierrez (323_633-1940) the alley is open to vehicular traffic. There the alley includes a “roadway” based on CVC 530 and 360 and pedestrians
CVC 530: A “roadway” is that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel.
CVC 360 “Highway” is a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. Highway includes street.
Image of Kurt Knecht is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and has some shared heritage with this tweetpix here.
- It does have some loopholes. Notably it’s OK to sit on benches. The City takes care of this loophole mostly by not having benches. This law also doesn’t apply in the presence of a parade. I’m not making that up. See for yourself.
- It’s tangentially interesting also for the crackpottedly extensive redactions, which certainly can’t be justified as a matter of law. But redacters gonna redact. They got a big black sharpie and they have to conceal something!
- I’m no kind of expert on this. For all I know they’ve been using it since forever. But this is the first I’ve heard of it.