Reactionary council member advances yet another attack on the city’s poor

ANSWER Indiana statement

A week after the Indianapolis City-County Council approved a $7 million increase to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department – an organization which routinely harasses and assaults poor and working-class people, many of whom are without homes – Council member Michael Hart is introducing an explicit attack on the city’s most oppressed people. Proposal No. 291 would make it illegal to pass out food, clothing, or other supplies in a public space without first registering with the Office of Public Health and Safety. Additionally, it would require those registered to provide 48 hours notice of intent to distribute said supplies. Those who fail to jump through these bureaucratic hoops would be fined up to $500.

Let us be clear: There is no justification for such a proposal unless one’s goal is to deter people from assisting our poor and working-class neighbors. This is an attempt to legislate the commons in a way that will make it more difficult for poor Hoosiers, especially those without housing, to access basic necessities, and it is one we must reject whole-heartedly. The city can provide these necessities for everyone, but they instead choose to increase the already-bloated police budget.

Knowing that this proposal is both unnecessary and likely to be unpopular with Indianapolis residents, Councilman Hart is playing evasive games of semantics with his constituents while opening up a new front in the war on Indianapolis’ poor.  According to Hart, the goal is not to deter donations but to “create a standard operating procedure for the distribution of goods on Indianapolis public property.” Despite this claim, food and supplies have been distributed effectively to poor and houseless residents for several years, and the supposed lack of “standard operating procedure” has never been a barrier to this service.

The most telling answer Hart supplies is that this proposal “aims to solve the problem of leaving things behind without any accountability on the Donor,” language echoed in the proposal itself. It explicitly prohibits distribution of goods that generates litter, and imposes a fine of $500 for not picking it up.

To understand the full context of Hart’s proposal, we must look back to July, when Fox59 ran a story about the woes of small business owners located at City Market. In a time when Hoosiers (and the rest of the country’s working class) were facing record levels of unemployment and housing insecurity, the vendors of City Market took to the media to complain about “unsheltered individuals” and those who brought food to them. Particularly abhorrent was the statement of Cindy Hawkins, owner of Circle City Sweets, who voiced a desire to “stop the people from coming to feed the residents of the Plaza on the weekends.” Many of those residents, lest we forget, are houseless folks with nowhere else to go.

A month later, WISH-TV interviewed Hawkins about a stabbing that ocurred outside City Market. No mention was made of the victim. Instead, the central focus of the piece was the dent left in Hawkins’ car, which, we were duly informed, was a rental.

Our past victory shows we can win again!

With pressure from the vendors of City Market and Hart’s own self-touted status as a small-business owner, it is easy to postulate a much more believable motivation for this proposal. Namely, that Councilman Hart and the moneyed interests he represents would prefer to address homelessness by criminalizing those affected and those providing direct aid. This proposal, then, is nothing more than a spiritual successor to ex-councilmember Mike McQuillen’s attempt to criminalize lying on the sidewalk, roundly defeated in 2018 thanks to the organized efforts of outraged people.

Unemployment, poverty, and homelessness are not accidental features of the capitalist system; they are produced by capitalism. Proposals such as this are not intended to “establish protocols” or “ensure safety.” They are intended to move the most oppressed sectors of Indianapolis out of the city center in the name of profits for the banks, landlords, and corporations in the city. Capitalism, as Marx and Engels argued, can never solve the housing question: it can only move it around. Such a move is exactly what the proposal aims to do in order to make the city “safe” for tourists and for capital.

Let Councilman Hart know that you stand with the people of Indianapolis in rejecting this attack on our neighbors! Call his office at 317-327-4242, or send a public comment to the council here. We will not allow the city to push our poorest residents out of sight!