A deep dive into the death of a man without a home after police responded to his broken down car
what do the lack of affordable housing, the practice of tasing and the criminalization of homelessness all have to do with one Oregon mans death - your Friday Long Read from High Country News
Did James Plymell need to die? How homelessness is criminalized in small cities and towns across the West.
In 2019, an estimated 568,000 people in the U.S. experienced homelessness. And the issue is particularly severe on the West Coast: In California, Oregon and Washington, in 2019, 29 to 38 people per 10,000 were homeless; those three states, along with the District of Columbia, New York and Hawaii, had the highest rates of homelessness nationwide.
In Albany, a town of 53,000 people, local police knew Plymell well: who he was, who he wasn’t, and how he acted around law enforcement. Between 2012 and 2019, the department ticketed, cited or arrested him about once per month on average. High Country News reviewed a list of 103 incidents during that time and found no mention of weapons, no record of violence. Plymell’s crimes involved sleeping in public parks, littering, drinking in public or being intoxicated — the kind of infractions that housing advocates and legal experts say cities and towns use to criminalize homelessness, poverty, addiction and the behavior of people with mental health issues.
“The rate of interactions between cops and homeless people is fucking astronomical,” Paul Boden, WRAP’s director, said. “Sleeping, sitting and standing still, by massive percentages, were the top three criminal offenses people are being hit with. Sleeping, sitting and standing still — who doesn’t do that?”
The struggle had lasted just over four minutes; a swarm of officers new to the scene now gathered, performing CPR until local medics arrived. They worked on Plymell for 20 minutes. But the man — who minutes before had been simply a person stranded on the side of the road — was pronounced dead at 8:51 a.m.
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