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UNM disrupts class-based movement because of “transients”

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

To start, let’s admit something that hasn’t been talked about much in public yet: Thanks to its offer of free food and blankets, the (Un)occupy Albuquerque camp functioned as an improvised homeless shelter almost since the beginning.

This fact is the central theme of University of New Mexico’s news release announcing that the protesters’ permit would not be renewed after 10 p.m. last night.

“The nature of the (Un)occupy Albuquerque protest is that it attracts many different types of individuals, and there is no way to assess whether people are or are not part of the (Un)occupy protest, so as a result the university has chosen not to approve a permit extension,” the statement reads. It makes passing reference to “a number of incident reports” received by UNM’s Police Department, including an accidental death that occurred near the Yale and Redondo bus stop (which, incidentally, is not actually part of Camp Coyote).

According to police report, on Saturday, Oct. 22, officers were directed to the scene by a homeless man, who had been with a woman when she died. He told the officers that she said she had “finished a gallon of vodka prior to the incident.”

UNM writes in the release that the university sought suggestions from the city to help “address the issues with the transients who have been attracted to the protest.”

This could have served as a powerful wake-up call to the administration. Homelessness and substance abuse are not new problems at UNM. The fact that someone died on campus should have been met with a promise to implement social programs, to stop handing so much money over to construction companies and instead reinvest in making Albuquerque a better, kinder city.

Instead, the administration decided to scuttle the protesters so the unsightly homeless people won’t tarnish the university’s image. The basic message of all this? If you’re going to die in the street, that’s fine with us—just do it somewhere else.

It’s not like this is a new position for the university to take, either. UNM’s student-run newspaper, the Daily Lobo, published a story last month about UNMPD’s efforts to remove homeless people from campus.

For the first 90 minutes of every day, the university police force kicks homeless people off campus, a UNMPD spokesman told the Lobo. He went on to say the department has “a zero-tolerance policy” for homeless people that are bothering students.

UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair says it was no single person, but the university administration as a whole, that decided to remove the protesters.

“It was a collaborative decision. It was an administrative decision,” she says.

So what we have here is a literally faceless bureaucracy deciding that it’s unacceptable for the most disadvantaged members of society to be on campus—a decision which, conveniently, disrupts a class-based protest at the same time.

Blair references safety concerns on campus. “The concern is, there are people with families out there. There are people that have their kids and their spouses, and they’re just out there to protest and mind their business,” she says.

The problem with this reasoning is that there’s at least one homeless family—a father, mother, and child—that’s been taking advantage of the resources Camp Coyote offers. Walking by the camp on Central late one night last week, I saw the kid’s tiny shoes sticking out from under a tarp laid out next to the sidewalk, an image that has haunted me ever since. UNM claims to be concerned for families’ safety but offers no assistance of any kind to this particular family.

In fact, sleeping at Yale park was prohibited under the terms of the permit, denying the family even the relative comfort of sleeping on grass instead of sidewalk.

The safety issue is spurious for another reason: It’s not like UNM was such a safe place before this. A woman’s throat was cut outside the campus’ anthropology building in February 2010, a full year and a half before Camp Coyote was set up.

But there’s another part of Blair’s explanation that really gets to the heart of why the protesters have to go. She explained the university had to consider the safety of “all of (its) constituents” including students, demonstrators and “people coming in for cultural events over the weekend.”

Therein lies the most logical explanation for the university’s actions. It had to consider its other constituents, particularly rich, well-dressed Popejoy patrons who don’t want to pass a homeless shelter on their way to see the Blue Man Group.

The administration has therefore come down clearly on the side of the top 1 percent of Americans, the group that makes up its “cultural event patron” constituency. To be fair, it has also expressed that it may be willing to tolerate the next 98 percent, assuming they follow the rules. But as for the bottom 1 percent? Well, go die somewhere else.

Alibi contributor Andrew Beale has followed the occupation since it reached Albuquerque. His opinions are solely his own and do not reflect those of the Alibi or the (Un)occupy group.

 

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