Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row

Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row

by Forrest Stuart
Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row

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Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row by Forrest Stuart

In his first year working in Los Angeles’s Skid Row, Forrest Stuart was stopped on the street by police fourteen times. Usually for doing little more than standing there.

Juliette, a woman he met during that time, has been stopped by police well over one hundred times, arrested upward of sixty times, and has given up more than a year of her life serving week-long jail sentences. Her most common crime? Simply sitting on the sidewalk—an arrestable offense in LA.

Why? What purpose did those arrests serve, for society or for Juliette? How did we reach a point where we’ve cut support for our poorest citizens, yet are spending ever more on policing and prisons? That’s the complicated, maddening story that Stuart tells in Down, Out and Under Arrest, a close-up look at the hows and whys of policing poverty in the contemporary United States. What emerges from Stuart’s years of fieldwork—not only with Skid Row residents, but with the police charged with managing them—is a tragedy built on mistakes and misplaced priorities more than on heroes and villains. He reveals a situation where a lot of people on both sides of this issue are genuinely trying to do the right thing, yet often come up short. Sometimes, in ways that do serious harm.

At a time when distrust between police and the residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods has never been higher, Stuart’s book helps us see where we’ve gone wrong, and what steps we could take to begin to change the lives of our poorest citizens—and ultimately our society itself—for the better.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226566207
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/06/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 381,809
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Forrest Stuart is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago.

Read an Excerpt

Down, Out, and Under Arrest

Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row

By Forrest Stuart

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-37095-8


The Rise of Therapeutic Policing

On a cool evening in 2009, roughly 150 people, including myself, assembled in front of the Midnight Mission in anticipation of the monthly Skid Row Safety Walk. Created four years earlier to serve as a public face of the Safer Cities Initiative, these walks are the product of a collaboration between the Los Angeles Police Department, Skid Row's largest social service organizations, and the Central City East Association (CCEA) — a business improvement district (BID) representing the fish warehouses and other storage companies located in the eastern section of the neighborhood. The Safety Walk is one part public relations campaign and one part social service outreach program. Officially described as "a vehicle by which to educate government leaders, the public and the press about the dangers of life (and death) on Skid Row," the hour-long procession weaves its way through Skid Row's streets offering residents free transportation to a participating social service organization.

Attendees at the night's walk included LA city attorney Carmen Trutanich, LAPD deputy chief Sergio Diaz, the Central Division lieutenant and sergeant who oversee SCI deployments, CCEA executive director Estela Lopez, four representatives from Skid Row's largest service facilities, and three outreach workers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). This month, they were joined by more than twenty city and district attorneys from municipalities across the United States, in town for a seminar hosted by Trutanich's office on how to institute law enforcement policies like the Safer Cities Initiative in their own jurisdictions. The Safety Walk capped off a day of classroom sessions and tours of downtown's criminal justice buildings. It was now time for the visitors to witness Skid Row and its policing program with their own eyes.

As was routine, Trutanich began the event by addressing the group. He stood tall in the back of a white CCEA pickup truck parked near the curb. With his arms outstretched, he invited the out-of-town guests to take in the scene. "See this," he began. "This is something that is not just happening in LA. This can happen in yourcity too!" He pointed up and down the street. "I come down here as much as I can to let the people down here know that I care about them. That I am committed to turning this place into a way station. A place for people to get their lives back on track and get out. And it's going to be a collaborative effort between me, the DA, my buddy, the city attorney's office, the sheriff, the Central City East Association, and the police." As he spoke, Trutanich signaled Deputy Chief Diaz to join him on his makeshift stage.

"It's a partnership," Diaz echoed. "The partnership that we've forged with organizations like the Midnight Mission and the CCEA is allowing us to change all of this. Our partnership is allowing us to help people and reduce crime at the same time."

After similar comments from the Safety Walk's other leaders, the group made its way through the neighborhood. Ten patrol officers formed a protective bubble around the attendees, while three LAPD squad cars traveled ahead of the procession with lights flashing, blocking off streets and ordering pedestrians to clear out of the area. When the leaders of the Safety Walk encountered the small number of residents who remained standing or sitting on the sidewalk despite earlier police orders, they asked these individuals if they were interested in climbing into one of the LAHSA vans that trailed behind the procession, to be transported to the Midnight Mission. By the conclusion of the night's walk, not a single resident had taken them up on their offer. At one point the group approached an elderly black woman, who declined their help with visible distrust and hostility. Seeing this, a representative from one of the partner social service organizations grabbed the attention of a small group of us in the crowd.

"Let me tell you what just went on over there," he began, pointing behind him to the elderly woman while shaking his head in disapproval. "We just offered to bring this lady, free of charge, mind you, into an organization like mine. But she refused. You can see we're clearly trying to help her. We deal with this day in and day out. It's called 'service resistance.' These people know that if they go into one of our programs, they have to go to sleep at a certain time, they have a lights-out, they have rules that they have to follow. Out here there are no rules. It's a lifestyle. That's exactly why we need Safer Cities and our partners in law enforcement. To help these folks understand that they can't live without rules anymore."

* * *

The monthly Skid Row Safety Walk captures the core logic of therapeutic policing, which leverages the coercive power of the criminal justice system in an explicit effort to correct the attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyle choices of the urban poor. This chapter traces the origins and development of this disciplinary model of social control from the birth of LA's Skid Row district through the launch of SCI over a century and a half later. In contrast to the prevailing scholarly and public narrative, which explains the recent upswing in police punitiveness as a decline, if not death, of the rehabilitative approach, the history of Skid Row policing reveals that it is better understood as reflecting a renewed commitment to these ideals. Indeed, SCI represents the resurrection of law enforcement policies characteristic of the late nineteenth century that actively sought to cure the economic and moral pathologies supposed to lie at the root of urban poverty. Then as now, those interventions — while expressly rehabilitative — are also highly punitive.

The history of Skid Row policing serves as a corrective to two additional assumptions about America's so-called punitive turn in criminal justice. First, as Joe Soss and his colleagues recently point out, scholars' claims of a wholesale move toward retribution and exclusion tend to hinge on a kind of latent functionalism. By portraying the upswing in punitiveness as somehow "necessitated" by larger social forces, this work inadvertently neglects the agency of the myriad political actors involved. Second, the few accounts that do consider political agency focus narrowly on the profit-driven and "revanchist" actions of business interests, who purportedly enlist the police to purge the urban poor from areas slated for gentrification and redevelopment. Here, too, agency takes a back seat to the larger "needs" of capitalism.

Events like the Safety Walk offer the possibility of a different interpretation. Policies like the Safer Cities Initiative can more accurately be understood, not as an inevitable result of late industrial capitalism, but as contingent outcomes resulting from the concrete demands that a multitude of local interests and partners place on the police. Notably, these partners include private social welfare organizations like the Midnight Mission. These social welfare organizations — surprisingly overlooked in most accounts of contemporary urban social control — have been instrumental in moderating the levels and ultimate aims of police punitiveness throughout Skid Row's history. Their impact is on par with and at times even surpasses that of business interests.

A more comprehensive understanding of recent transformations in policing therefore requires us to reexamine the role of the police within the larger "organizational field" of poverty governance. Following the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, an organizational field can be defined as "a set of organizations linked together as competitors and collaborators within a social space devoted to a particular type of action." The field of poverty governance encompasses all those agencies and organizations typically involved in regulating poor populations. This includes state welfare bureaucracies, city officials, and the municipal police department, as well as private welfare organizations and local businesses. Field-level outcomes — whether housing policies, employment policies, or in this case, policing policies — are the collective product of the interorganizational agreements made between the actors within the field.

The following historical account is separated into three major periods in the development of Skid Row, paying particular attention to the neighborhood's fluctuating interorganizational agreements and the resulting transitions in law enforcement. Just as the aggressive law enforcement currently in place is not singularly punitive, it is also not entirely new. In the nineteenth century, the organized charity movement and the LAPD forged a symbiotic relationship to reform the "dangerous class" that accumulated in the neighborhood. Acting as "moral entrepreneurs," charity organizations pressed the city to create stringent municipal ordinances and enforcement standards designed to eliminate pauperism and compel new ways of living. This trend reversed in the New Deal era beginning in the 1930s; with the rise of the centralized welfare state came the collapse of the organized charity movement. A more oppositional and politically radical collection of organizations rose in its place, ultimately forcing the LAPD to institute a more lenient and less corrective approach to policing for most of the twentieth century. In the wake of welfare state retrenchment and privatization in the late twentieth century, however, paternalist and therapeutic organizations resurfaced in Skid Row. Attempting to rebrand the neighborhood as a "recovery zone" — what Trutanich described as a "way station ... for people to get their lives back on track" — these organizations have revived the earlier disciplinary model of policing. In Skid Row, policing has been at its most punitive precisely during those historical periods when the police were most concerned with saving the urban poor from themselves.

Resocializing Paupers: 1850s–1930s

Throughout its early history, Los Angeles's Skid Row closely mirrored the "Main Stem" (or "Hobohemia") districts found in other urban centers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Proximity to the Los Angeles River and a flat topography made the areas surrounding LA's nascent downtown ideal for the development of the packing and shipping industries. When the first locomotive arrived in Los Angeles in 1881, it brought with it a swell of migratory labor seeking jobs in the seasonal agricultural, industrial, and transportation sectors. Between 1870 and 1900, the population of Los Angeles exploded from 5,782 to 102,000. Single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels — providing small rooms and communal baths at affordable prices — sprang up in Skid Row to accommodate new arrivals and short-term residents. Earning the nickname "Hell's Half Acre," the district became synonymous with bars, pawnshops, brothels, dance halls, and other businesses catering to a single adult male population.

Charity, voluntary, and other private welfare organizations saturated Los Angeles's Skid Row, as they did most major American cities. From the establishment in 1854 of southern California's first voluntary organization, the Hebrew Benevolent Society, private welfare played a central role in shaping the city's physical and moral landscape. Prior to the completion of the intercontinental railroad, organizations clustered in a section of downtown appropriately named Charity Street (current-day Grand Avenue). As the Skid Row district swelled with migrants, however, these organizations moved closer to their patrons. Here they joined with more prominent social reform groups arriving from the east coast. In 1892, the Salvation Army constructed its first southern California facility on Fifth Street, in the heart of Skid Row. The following year, the Associated Charities and the Charity Organization Society (COS) established branches nearby, consolidating the majority of the city's social welfare efforts under the mantle of "scientific charity."

Scientific charity held as its foremost objective the repression of pauperism through resocialization. Amid rapid urbanization, reformers perceived an increase in the number, visibility, and audacity of able-bodied poor who, rather than seek legitimate employment, attempted to live off public and private bounty. Explaining pauperism as the result of willful defiance, moral deficiency, and lack of restraint, organizations pursued two principal strategies to restore the pauper class to self-sufficiency. First, to inhibit subsistence outside of formal employment, they advocated for the prohibition of begging, along with the elimination of all forms of indiscriminate relief. In the words of Stephen Humphrey Gurteen, one of the founders of the COS in the United States, aid free of conditions "encourages idleness and unthriftiness and improvidence," while creating dense neighborhoods of dependence and vice. In one of the major statements of American charity organization principles, Josephine Shaw Lowell asserted that rather than risk reproducing the pauper class through overgenerous handouts, poor relief should aim to "insure a distinct moral and physical improvement on the part of all those ... forced to have recourse to it." "Discipline and education," Lowell claimed, should be "inseparably associated with any system of relief."

At the same time that private welfare organizations curtailed alternative means of survival, they directly engaged in moral reform. Salvation Army founder William Booth referred to this two-pronged tactic as the "Scheme of Social Salvation." Booth designed his program to attract paupers into Salvation Army facilities using any means available, including food, shelter, music, and the lure of staff uniforms. Once inside, the organization provided "a stable institutional environment during an initial period of rehabilitation." For those who proved pliant, the organization continued to instill regular work habits, sobriety, and responsibility through temporary employment in one of its retail stores. For those who proved otherwise, the Salvation Army reserved more punitive options. Reclassifying the poor as "worthy" or "unworthy" according to their willingness to reform, organizations banished the latter to the rural farm colonies established outside of Los Angeles throughout the 1890s. Adopting the language of contagion, the Salvation Army and other organizations sought to incapacitate the morally incorrigible so they could no longer "infect their fellows, prey upon society, and multiply their kind."

To give teeth to their coercive measures, private welfare organizations turned to the most authoritative local government agency of the time: the municipal police department. In the late nineteenth century, the middle and upper classes, fearful of the deleterious effects of rapid urbanization and industrialization, pressured civic authorities to create centralized police departments to provide a means of controlling paupers and white ethnic immigrants. Because these departments predated other specialized city agencies, in many cases the police were either formally charged with or quickly assumed the burden, not only of controlling crime, but also overseeing social welfare services. These included taking censuses, regulating health standards, providing ambulances, and supplying overnight lodging in police stations — functions that provided broad and amorphous powers to deeply intervene in the daily lives of the urban poor.

The nineteenth-century police role developed via a symbiotic relationship with private welfare organizations. First, organizations used their political influence at the state and city levels to draft ordinances prohibiting vagrancy, loitering, begging, and drunkenness. These so-called civility laws were written with intentionally vague language to give the police broad power to control the growing number of idle and "masterless men." Second, charity organizations demanded that members of police departments behave much like surrogate organization employees. Most notably, the COS enlisted the police to investigate the homes of anyone receiving relief, draw up central registers of the poor, conduct door-to-door fundraising, discover child abuse and neglect, and assist in finding lost children. As the president of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children wrote in 1887, "The Law and Humanity go hand-in-hand. ... And instead of the local police ... being antagonistic to the efforts of the Society ... as too often occurs in European countries, they are assisted in their official duties, strengthened in their efforts." For its targets, this evolving partnership was obvious. Managers and customers of the district's vaudeville theaters quickly learned to keep "a weather eye open for the social worker, with policeman in tow, out to preserve the integrity of the American home."


Excerpted from Down, Out, and Under Arrest by Forrest Stuart. Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Map of Skid Row xii

Introduction 1

Part I Fixing the Poor

1 The Rise of Therapeutic Policing 37

2 From Rabble Management to Recovery Management 78

Part II Becoming Copwise

3 Training for Survival 125

4 Cooling Off the Block 164

5 Policing the Police 205

Conclusion 250

Methodological Appendix: An Inconvenient Ethnography 271

Acknowledgments 291

Notes 297

References 313

Index 325

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Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ellison61 More than 1 year ago
Shares the legislation that deals with homelessness, how the police deal with situations, and how the street dwellers deal with situations. Insightful. Swearing.