Thursday, August 23, 2007

Free the Oregon Three!

From: Western Regional Advocacy Project, Street Roots, Sisters Of The Road, Los
Angeles Community Action Network, San Francisco Coalition On Homelessness,
Real Change

HOMELESS People who witness crimes are being thrown into jail
because prosecutors want easy access to them

On June 3rd, three homeless people who witnessed a disturbance in Medford, Ore. that
led to a death and an arrest on manslaughter charges were themselves jailed—because a
prosecutor argued, and a judge agreed, that as homeless people, the witnesses might
prove too difficult to locate at the time of the trial. That trial is scheduled to start Sept. 25.
No charges have been brought against the witnesses.

On Friday, Aug. 24th, the three individuals will be going before a judge to fight for their
freedom from incarceration. But they are not the first homeless people to be jailed for the
crime of stepping forward to tell police what they witnessed.

"It should alarm everyone in this country, regardless of how you see the issue of
homelessness, that our courts are locking people up simply based on the fact that they
witnessed (not committed) a crime. Guantanamo Bay comes to Medford Oregon," says
Paul Boden, the Executive Director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project based in
San Francisco.

“An alarming trend has emerged in this country, one that criminalizes those that merely
witness a crime; a trend that has led to the jailing of witnesses for indefinite periods of
time. This trend has the chilling effect of silencing those who would otherwise be used as
tools in the pursuit of justice,” says Pete White, founder and Co-Director of the Los
Angeles Community Action Network

This incident comes on the heels of another case, in Scranton, Penn. On July 6th, Randy
Barr, a 41-year-old homeless man, saw a man slashed to death during an argument, called
police and waited for them to arrive at the scene in order to make a statement. He was
jailed for four weeks before being put on a house arrest program earlier this month, fitted
with a monitoring device and required to check in with house arrest officials once a week.
He is banned from using alcohol or drugs and must also submit to random drug tests and
pay $10 a day for the program.

Initially, Barr was thrown in Lackawanna County Prison where, he said, no one told him
about anything that was happening with the case.

As advocates for homeless people, we are outraged at this egregious violation of their
civil rights. Instead of giving the individuals in these cases a hotel room or other place to
stay, they have been thrown into jail and treated as any other inmate for the crime of
coming forward as good citizens, while not having a roof over their head.

“Just because an individual is without a home, shouldn’t mean you are stripped of your
rights as a citizen of the United States,” says Israel Bayer, the Director of Street Roots
newspaper in Portland, Ore.

It has often been said that the most precious thing we have in America is our freedom and
that government must be able to show good cause before our freedom can be infringed
upon. Protections were created that government must be able to prove “beyond a
reasonable doubt” that we have committed a crime before it can lock us up in jail in an
effort to preserve our individual freedom. Apparently, those days are over.

“If you've got money, you've got rights. Since when do you have to buy due process and
human rights in this country?” says Rachael Myers, Advocacy Director with Real Change
newspaper in Seattle, Wash.

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