Illegal Camping or Right to Exist?

by Arnaud and Naja Girard

Rolling over while sleeping could seem innocent enough. But if you’ve laid down to sleep on a Key West sidewalk, what your hands, your face, your lips, would ultimately be rubbing against could be dirt and spit, vomit, urine, and whatever unknown plague and pestilence is crawling beneath you in the dirt.

No matter how disgusting, for Key West’s homeless people unable to sleep at the overnight shelter on Stock Island, these conditions are the only ones available to them under city laws.

In the video below 43-year-old Kara Cohen is being arrested. Her only crime is having placed a bedsheet between herself and the sidewalk. Judge Mark Wilson would later sentence her to 30 days in jail for “camping in public.”

A little background may be required before viewing the officers’ bodycam footage:

In 1988 Michael Pottinger and about 6000 of his homeless brethren, with the help of the ACLU, sued the City of Miami because of its treatment of homeless people.

A federal court ruled: “The City’s practice of arresting homeless individuals for harmless, involuntary conduct [such as sleeping and bathing] which they must perform in public is cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

At the time, the City of Key West interpreted that landmark ruling as requiring the construction of a homeless shelter as a condition to continued arrest of homeless people found sleeping in public areas. The City first allowed a “tent city” to go up along South Roosevelt Boulevard’s bridle path and later built the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) on Stock Island.

Here’s the question: When people cannot go to KOTS and must sleep in the streets, do we really want to force them to do so under the most unsanitary and dangerous conditions?



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3 thoughts on “Illegal Camping or Right to Exist?

  1. I suppose the cops are doing what the City has ordered them to do, but this was not an arrest to be proud of. Do you suppose they will list it on their resume as a grand achievement of previous employment “protecting and serving” the public?
    I see the dumb grin on the one cop’s face during the arrest and think, “He’s having too much fun.” Isn’t that the difference between sociopath and psychopath? Do they have a psych evaluation before hiring Key West cops or do they just recruit school bullies? I see this job takes a special kind of “person.” I suppose promotions are coming for these two fine specimens.

  2. Dear Arnaud & Naja,

    Compelling video… Evidence ascertained by said video, mandate that this arrested woman be brought to a hospital and evaluated for her declared mental illness. If possible, and if you have the time, please investigate this further and determine if in fact she received appropriate medical attention…. Thank you…

    Arnaud & Naja, you remain on the firing line of life where the rubber meets the road. All does not seem right in the “Bastion of Humanity”, where the words “One Human Family” are so frequently and fraudulently touted.

    With Love, Blessings & Respect…

  3. Camping???? On a sheet of cardboard? Never has camping been defined that way. Camping means you have camping equipment which a sheet of cardboard is not! But the Key West camping law is the panic attack of the tourist operators who want to project a nice image for the tourists. So our locals pay the price for our industrial-grade tourism; jail terms for sleeping where they HAVE to, in public.

    They know they cannot arrest for harmless sleeping so the esteemed city of key west invents a crazy crime of ‘camping.’ Changing the noun doesn’t change the verb; she was merely SLEEPING and went to the debilitating environment of jail. Turned into a prisoner for having to sleep and for not being able to provide shelter for herself. Merry Christmas, tourist industry and all profit-motivated money grubbers everywhere!

    Notice the threat of police brutality when the policeman said she had better behave or she’ll get hurt. Then one said that she’s lucky that they’re nice cops.

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