From Matt Davis of the Portland Mercury, May 13, 2008

“What we’re advocating for is if people are going to camp, do so in low impact areas in small groups,” said Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese, at a meeting of the downtown Public Safety Action Committee this morning, discussing the imminent sweep of the homeless protesters outside city hall.

This is the policy the mayor has been pushing, too. That it’s okay to break the law, but that the city will only enforce its anti-camping ordinance if homeless people become visible and draw complaints.

If that’s the case, here are some other policies I think the city should explicitly spell out:

1. Go ahead and snort cocaine if you want to, just do it in your house in the West Hills, and don’t wake the neighbors.
2. Smoke pot in your hippy collective in Southeast Portland, but not on the park blocks.
3. Drive down Sandy at 50mph as long as nobody’s out there with a radar.
4. Litter if there aren’t any cops around.
5. Be poor, just don’t let it interfere with downtown retail revenues.

Portland, we can and should do better. It’s about our self-respect as a city.Reese said there isn’t a time set for the protest to be swept today, but that the protesters are being asked to protest “in the same manner as any other protest.” In other words, he said “we need to have fair and consistent policies in place so we’re not seen to be favoring one protest over another.”

The problem is this: The protesters are protesting about the fairness and possible illegality of the camping ordinance—the very ordinance that’s going to be used to end their protest. These people’s existence, under the current law, is a protest in itself. Simply by existing, they’re exercising their right to free speech. So if they want to exist, to peacefully assemble on a public street, what gives the mayor the right to order the camping ordinance enforced against a first amendment protest, as opposed to against another first amendment protest? It doesn’t seem fair and consistent to me, in fact, it seems logically and legally flawed.

The protesters are having a closed meeting with the mayor at 3pm, and the mayor will meet with the press at 3:30. I plan to ask him about the fairness of the camping policy in the terms I’ve just laid out.