Seattle Vigil Against Hate Violence

Anitra Freeman (
Thu, 7 Oct 1999 23:41:25 -0700 (PDT)

Tonight I spoke at an Interfaith Vigil to Stop Hate Violence, held at
Temple de Hirsch and sponsored by 53 groups of wide diversity.  I'm
posting my speech here -- it's also a news update to several things
currently happening in Seattle I haven't had time lately to report to
you on!  

I am really enjoying being here tonight with all of you -- but I feel a
little like I'm preaching to the choir.  I really doubt that anyone here
would lift a knife to kill David  Ballenger, as three teenagers did on
August 9th, or as a 14-year old did against David Paul Ogden in March.
I don't believe that anyone in this room would set a homeless immigrant
on fire, as two children did in May 1997.

But children learn their behavior from somewhere.  Where have Seattle's
children learned that the lives of homeless people are worthless?  Where
have they learned to fear, hate, and ultimately attack human beings who
just look like they're homeless?

In a City Council hearing on the Park Exclusion ordinance last year,
City Attorney Mark Sidran stood up and said, "I hear complaints that
most of the tickets given out in the parks are to homeless people.  
Well, what you have to ask yourself is, who's responsible for most of
the criminal behavior?"

The day before last Thanksgiving, Seattle experienced a terrifying
tragedy when a passenger with a gun shot and killed a bus driver, then
himself.  The bus plummeted off the Aurora bridge. On the basis of a
comment that the gunman had been seen at the Union Gospel Mission, the
media began printing that this horror was committed by a homeless man.
The man, it turned out, was not homeless.  The corrections, however,
weren't nearly as dramatic as the original rumor was.

When Seattle's own City Attorney portrays homeless people as criminals
and annoyances that the rest of Seattle has to be protected from; when
the media is quick to seize on sensationalist stories scapegoating the
homeless; do we really have the right to be surprised when our children
act on the images we've given them? When other people act on what they
are told?

In City Council just this Monday a unanimous vote authorized spending
public moneys urgently needed to keep human beings from death this
winter, on the implementation of a computerized tracking system to make
sure that the bureaucracy knows where everybody is and what services
they're getting because the people in need and the wonderful, dedicated
people who are helping them *cannot be trusted to know what is actually

I work with WHEEL, an organizing effort of homeless and formerly
homeless women, and WHEEL has charged me with a message to you here
tonight.  Making human beings into numbers to be controlled and
regimented is a violation, and whenever that violation occurs violence
follows.  If the government of Seattle dehumanizes people, they are
responsible for the results.  The results are hatred and death.

I don't really want anybody to feel sorry for homeless people.  If I had
a nickel for everybody I've heard feel sorry for homeless people, I
could house *everybody*.  I'd be just as glad if you got really hot to
look out after yourselves.  Because hatred and violence are wolves that
grow when they're fed.  If we allow an environment where *anybody* is in
danger of hate violence, then ultimately *everybody* is in danger.  If
we allow a bureaucracy to tag and regiment the weakest portion of our
population, it *will* grow from there.

"First they came for the homeless people, but I was not a homeless
person, so I said nothing ..."

What can you do?  With every bigotry, you can stand up against it in
your own daily life.  When ever you hear comments of hate and
scapegoating against blacks, gays, women, homeless people or anyone,
speak out for the truth.  

Act in your daily life.  Don't walk past homeless people as if they're
invisible.  Look at them, talk to them, include them in community
activities.  Find a way to include homeless and low-income people in
your neighborhood -- wherever you live, there *are* homeless and
low-income people in your neighborhood -- include them in your church
committees, neighborhood councils, Block Watch.

Insist that your City government treat every citizen the same.  If
low-income people are going to get their benefits tracked, the
Nordstroms and Paul Allen deserve the same care.  Sports fans and
concert-goers can get public facilities -- with an equal amount spent on
keeping low-income people alive.

I am also currently working with a coalition of groups which has no
formal name, so I am calling us Sweepless in Seattle.  We received a
letter from the Mayor just today guaranteeing that there will be no
homeless sweeps during WTO.  But the Mayor himself has frequently said
that he cannot do everything -- he needs public participation.  I am
asking everyone here to help our Mayor to insure that homeless people in
Seattle will not be harassed during WTO -- or at any other time.

Be an activist.  That word gets a bad rep, but to me it just means
taking action on a problem instead of only complaining about  it.  While
we're talking about words, "responsibility" has  been analyzed as
"ability to respond".  Take responsibility for your community.  Lets
make Seattle a self-managed city.

[end forward]

Write On! / Anitra L. Freeman /
Sweepless in Seattle!