Thursday, August 20, 2020

Tent City Lawsuit Seeks Injunction To Extend Lawless Behavior

By Ralph Cipriano

For three months, a hapless Mayor Jim Kenney has allowed an illegal, unsafe and unsanitary Tent City to flourish on the formerly scenic Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

It started on June 11th, when Kenney ordered the cops to stand down as homeless "activists" invaded the Von Colln Memorial Field, at 22nd and the Parkway, where kids in the Fairmount neighborhood used to play baseball and soccer. While the city wasted months trying to negotiate with unruly protesters and their pie-in-the-sky and often conflicting demands, more tents sprouted on the grounds of the nearby Rodin Museum, and the Azalea Garden bordering the Philadelphia Art Museum, which is scheduled to re-open next month.

This lawlessness was all supposed to end at 9 a.m. Tuesday, when the weak-kneed and easily played Kenney had supposedly set a final deadline for the Tent City protesters to evacuate. Police were ordered to gather at 3 a.m. that morning to plan the dirty work of clearing the encampments. But on Monday, a pro bono lawyer for the homeless activists beat the city to the punch by going into U.S. District Court to request a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the city. 

In his lawsuit, attorney Michael Huff is basically asking a federal judge to uphold the protesters' imaginary rights to continue to break the law. Huff's lawsuit also seeks to prevent the city from enforcing the law, which they've failed to do for the past three months. 

And what was Kenney's reaction to the lawsuit? Why our spineless mayor immediately caved again, and called off the cops. 

In the complaint and request for a temporary injunction filed Aug. 17th, the attorney for the Tent City activists argued that the Tent City encampments are really continuing "protests for permanent housing" for people who have "nowhere else to go."

Huff claims the city's shelters are not only full, but "rampant with Covid-19." Tent city residents much prefer their "safe and socially distanced tents at the encampments," Huff wrote, as opposed to some shelter or hotel, where the homeless would "lose the support of their community."

A "community" they just created by breaking the law. 

Huff's lawsuit was filed on behalf of illegal encampments on the Parkway, the Azalea Garden, and outside the headquarters of the Philadelphia Housing Authority at Jefferson and Ridge.

While the city shelters are filled with disease, Huff contends, the encampments provide free hand sanitizers, regular Cover-19 testing, "socially distanced tent residences," as well as "outdoor showers, portable toilets, safe and healthy meals every day, and a 24/7 medic on site."

While they're being handed all the freebies, Huff wrote, the protesters coincidentally have no plans to leave. Why break up the party? But if a federal judge doesn't grant a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, Huff warns, the big bad "city will most certainly destroy plaintiff's safe shelter-in-place and protest and destroy all their belongings tomorrow morning."

If that were to happen, Huff writes, "monetary damages would never compensate the loss of all of plaintiffs' personal effects, items of sentimental value, as well as their homes and a safe community which has provided them with so many resources."

So thanks again for the freebies, folks. And keep it coming; these freeloaders will take whatever you're giving away.

No cops, however. Because we're doing a lot of drugs here, and whatever else we feel like doing. 

But if the homeless are forced to relocate, Huff wrote, they face the risk of suffering and dying from Covid-19 if "they are forced to sleep alone on the street or risk the dangerous conditions of the shelter system," which he said are at full capacity.

Huff claims that if the city clears the Parkway, it will somehow deny the protesters their First Amendment rights, as well as subject them to unreasonable search and seizure."

The same folks who just subjected the city's parks and museum grounds to their own brand of unreasonable search and seizure.

If he doesn't make it as a lawyer, this Huff guy may have a future in standup comedy. 

The pro-bonehead lawyer asks the judge to impose a temporary restraining order until the city provides plaintiffs "with shelter which is safe, clean individually separated and in compliance with CDC guidelines regarding the prevention of the spread of Covid-19."

Huff is also demanding a "clear path to permanent housing" for the homeless protesters, as well as "specific protocols and procedures for location, labeling and easy reacquisition of plaintiffs property" while in storage.

Why not ask for the moon, Mr. Huff? You've picked the right guy to target. Sad sack Kenney, the top city official entrusted with protecting the rights of the citizens, is always ready to give away the store to whatever group of left-wing anarchists shows up at his doorstep.

There's only one rule with Kenney -- if you're protesting, don't mess with Letty. Don't show up at his girlfriend's house, where Kenney really hangs. That's because for months now, he's got a couple of marked cop cars down in South Philly guarding her place, along with an SUV from the mayor's security detail.

Letty Santarelli isn't exactly a city official, nor is she the mayor's spouse. But Kenney has one set of rules for himself, and another set of rules for everybody else.

That's why the mayor's spokesman and the official spokesman for the city police department have steadfastly refused to talk about the ongoing private security detail for the mayor's girlfriend. And whatever dollar amount this service may be costing the citizens.

In response to Huff's manifesto, Diane Cortes and Kristin Bray of the city solicitor's office filed a remarkably sensible brief Wednesday that argues that "the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to communicate one's views at all times and places or in any manner that may be desired."

"Plaintiffs cannot show that they merit the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction," the city solicitors wrote. "Additionally, plaintiffs' contentions regarding the threat of imminent and irreparable harm are speculative."

But when you're targeting a fall guy like Kenney, since it's worked for three months, why not keep it going? And wait for our mayor to take another pratfall. 

In their brief, the city solicitors claim there's been increasing crime and drug use in the camps that's resulted in a couple of stabbings and one death due to a drug overdose. 

The camp eventually grew to more than 100 tents, and, by the city's estimate, some 150 "residents" that as our paper of record is fond of saying, are currently "experiencing homelessness." 

The conditions down at the camp, however, are downright unsafe and unsanitary, the city solicitors say; a menace to the public health.

The only running water at the encampment is being illegally siphoned from a city water fountain, the city solicitors wrote. The limited water supply makes it difficult for camp residents to wash their hands, clothes, or bedding. Also, at the camp, the homeless "eat food that is not properly refrigerated, and from unknown sources," the solicitors state, which could lead to "an untraceable food-borne illness outbreak." 

The camp also features illegal electrical hookups and portable grills that could lead to fires or electrocutions, the city contends. And since it's hurricane season, the protesters could also be facing flying debris, toppling trees, and flash flooding, "all of which puts individuals living in an open field at severe risk of injury and even death," the solicitors argued.

In their brief, the city stresses that it's an ongoing violation of the city's building and zoning codes to live in tents erected on land zoned for parks and open spaces. The city solicitors also complained that "certain protesters in the encampment have consistently barred outreach workers from speaking to" homeless residents, preventing them from getting help for substance abuse, mental health problems, as well as placement in shelters.

"Here, the city's purpose in removing the encampment is multifold and rooted in the city's duty to exercise the police powers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all its residents and visitors, including the organizers and occupants of the encampment," the city solicitors wrote.

That's something the mayor has forgotten about in the past three months that he's been catering to the demands of the protesters, with absolutely nothing to show for it.

"In the judgment of the city's public health officials, the lack of running water and waste disposal, exposure to the elements, and challenging weather, presents a real risk to the physical makeup of the encampment," the solicitors argued.

While they're allegedly exercising their First Amendment rights, the solicitors point out, the protesters are illegally monopolizing public land.

"The impact on the park land has been significant and the encampment has worked to exclude use of the land by other residents and visitors with in the city," the solicitors wrote. "None of these purposes has to do with the content of the plaintiff's First Amendment activity and communication; each of these purposes is sufficient to establish that the city's actions to clear the encampment are legitimate."

If they ever get around to doing it.

"The city of Philadelphia's proposed action to remove individuals' abandoned property in the Parkway encampments is reasonable and does not violate the Fourth Amendment," the city argues. If only the mayor believed them.

"Here, the city's legitimate interest in removing an immediate unsafe and hazardous condition that is detrimental to the public health must be balanced against the property interests of those individuals encamped on public property," the city solicitors wrote. "This balancing analysis is informed by the city's reasonable actions to date, which include providing ample notice of the removal along with resources and outreach to the plaintiffs."

The city has provided multiple notices of "its intent to clear the encampment, thereby alerting plaintiffs of the need to take steps to safeguard their property," the solicitors wrote. The city's purpose is for the homeless "to retain their property, not to take or destroy" that property.

"The remedy here is to allow the city to perform its duty to make the area safe and available to the public once again, and to work with those in need of housing and services to obtain both in a safe and sanitary environment," the city solicitors concluded.

Great argument, guys.

Hopefully, when this lawsuit gets tossed, a federal judge will order Mayor Kenney to grow a pair and finally enforce the law. 

1 comment

  1. Hopefully, when this lawsuit gets tossed, a federal judge will order Mayor Kenney to grow a pair and enforce the law.

    I'm going to need some clarification with this statement here. On the other hand, it would be of some benefit if the federal judge issued a similar edict for the District Attorney of Philadelphia.


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