Kafka’s Law: `You never look good arresting disabled people ‘

The scene outside the Governor’s Reception Room yesterday afternoon.

Good morning Austin:

Shortly after ten last night, 15 advocates for the disabled and the attendants who serve them, many of them in wheelchairs, were charged with criminal trespass for refusing to leave the Governor’s Reception Room and the area surrounding the entrance to the Reception Room, which they and about 15 others had been “blockading” for nearly 12 hours. The Capitol generally closes at 10, unless the House or Senate or a hearing is running later than that.

The scene outside the Governor's Reception Room yesterday afternoon.

The scene outside the Governor’s Reception Room yesterday afternoon.

From my story in today’s paper, written before the arrests, the advocates wanted Gov. Greg Abbott to throw his weight behind raising the base pay for those home care attendants serving those on Medicaid to a more livable wage of $10 an hour.

Roughly 30 advocates for those with disabilities were demanding that he press the budget conference committee to raise the pay of community-based home care attendants to $10 an hour.

Right now, the base wage for those attendants is $7.86 an hour, without any benefits, sick leave or vacation, which the advocates say makes it hard to find and retain people who can help the elderly and those with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid. Attendants assist with the basic tasks of everyday life and enable their clients to stay in their homes and out of nursing facilities.

The House budget would add $60 million to the state Health and Human Services Commission to increase that wage by 14 cents an hour. The Senate budget would add $38 million, increasing it by 11 cents an hour. The governor’s budget proposal asked for $105.3 million to “recruit and retain personal attendants,” increasing the base pay by 40 cents, but still well shy of the $10 that advocates said would make the work competitive with the fast-food industry.

Bob Kafka of the disability rights group ADAPT of Texas, said it would cost $480 million over two years to raise the base wage to $10 an hour.

“It’s criminal that people essential to our survival can’t feed their kids,” said Jennifer McPhail, another ADAPT organizer, who has cerebral palsy.

From Kafka:

This is one of the most critical issues for people who live in the community. if you can’t find an attendant you just can’t live in the community. Now Walmart and Target are paying $10 and the base pay here in Texas is $7.86. We want the governor to talk to the conference committee and to endorse  $10 for community attendants as a base rate. One of the really sad parts is that even though the rate is so low, it’s even worse because there is no health  insurance  no sick leave and no vacation. So we don’t know where we are going to find the attendants to do the basic things, like getting up in the  morning, taking a shower, eating and just going out into the community.

inside

The scene inside the Governor’s Reception Room yesterday

The demonstrators wanted to meet with the governor – they have talked to top staff in the past – but he wasn’t around the office yesterday, and his schedule is booked through the approaching  end of the session.

Here is a little more on why Kafka was ready to be arrested yesterday.

And here is Melanie Boyte of Austin.

In the politics of protest, being in a wheelchair has its distinct advantages.

First, if you are trying, for example, to blockade Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, the simple fact of their wheelchairs and their bulk make it easier to obstruct things.

And secondly, when it comes time for the state police to arrest you for criminal trespass when you refuse to leave, the wheelchair makes the physical act of executing the arrest more complicated and cumbersome, and, as Kafka pointed out afterward, the optics of arresting folks in wheelchairs always presents a problem.

“You never look good arresting disabled people,” Kafka said.

Outside Gov. Greg Abbott's office.

Outside Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

Multiply that by some X factor if, as in this case, the governor is also in a wheelchair.

Kafka knows whereof he speaks. A veteran activist for disability rights, he has been arrested about 35 to 40 times for acts of civil disobedience, in Texas and around the country.

Here from May 23, 2011, under the headline, 14 arrested for protesting budget cuts for disabled

AUSTIN (AP) – Fourteen protesters, many in wheelchairs, were arrested Monday while protesting budget cuts to state programs for the disabled.

Activist Bob Kafka said they were arrested in raucous protests outside Gov. Rick Perry’s rented home and inside the state Capitol. The protests were organized by ADAPT Texas, an advocacy group for the disabled.

The Legislature has voted to cut funding for medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. Lawmakers have also cut funding for personal attendants that allow many disabled people to continue living at home.

One activist was arrested inside the Capitol for sounding a siren to bring attention to their chants demanding more spending on health programs. ADAPT wants lawmakers to use the Rainy Day Fund to maintain the present level of spending for the disabled.

Before that there was this from Robert Garrett of the Dallas Morning News on March 1, 2011

AUSTIN — Eleven Texans in wheelchairs, denouncing proposed state budget cuts, were ticketed late Tuesday night after refusing to leave a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Perry’s office in the state Capitol.

The protesters were with the disability rights group Adapt of Texas and refused to leave the Capitol when it was closed for the night, while about 20 other members of the group left to set up a vigil outside. David Wittie, 55, one of the sit-in organizers, said he and the others who stayed were cited for trespassing, a Class B misdemeanor, and escorted from the building.

He said the group would meet to discuss future actions.

Another organizer, Bob Kafka, said the group was disappointed that Perry would not meet with them. They wanted Perry to agree in writing to their demand that Texas use all its rainy-day money and raise other revenue to avoid cuts to social services. The Republican governor has urged lawmakers not to use any rainy-day money and opposes tax increases.

And then this, from the AP’s Jim Vertuno on April 10, 2003.

Twenty-five activists for the disabled, most of them in wheelchairs, were charged Thursday with criminal trespassing when they refused to break up a protest in and in front of Gov. Rick Perry’s Capitol office.

Chanting “Gov. Perry, What do you say, How many crips have you cut today?” the disabled-rights group ADAPT staged a demonstration to protest potential budget cuts in services, including in-home attendant care and medication.

Six members of the group, some with severe disabilities, were arrested when they refused to leave Perry’s office when it closed at 5 p.m. The others were issued summonses when they refused the leave the Capitol when it closed five hours later.

Reporters from The Associated Press, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the San Antonio Express-News and several television stations were told by police they had to leave the building under threat of arrest and were not allowed to witness the late proceedings.

The demonstrators who were arrested said it was worth it to promote their cause.

“It beats dying in a nursing home,” Danny Saenz, one of the activists who is stricken with cerebral palsy, said before state police troopers put him on a bus to take him away.

All were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing, which carries fines of up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail.

At 9:55 p.m., police brought Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans to meet with the protesters who remained outside Perry’s offices on the second floor. He read them their rights, told them he respected their civil disobedience and warned them of the consequences of their arrests. He would not speak to the media.

State police then made reporters leave.

The protesters had an attorney, Malcolm Greenstein, on hand. He remained with them after reporters left.

The protesters who were in the Capitol at night were issued summonses for criminal trespass on the spot and allowed to leave. They were given dates to appear in court over the next two months.

“Everybody felt very committed. It’s not fun and games, it’s our lives. These cuts are immoral,” said Bob Kafka, an organizer for ADAPT. He said the group would continue to have a daily presence at the Capitol.

Wow. That’s uncanny. When Vertuno writes something, it stays written.

I mean the scene last night was almost identical in the way it played out, with Kafka, Greenstein and Evans playing the exact same roles a dozen years later, and me filling in for Vertuno and the other reporters. For better or worse, and not realizing at the time that this was more in the nature of a Broadway revival than wholly original premiere,  I reacted with perhaps a smidgen too much outrage when they threatened to arrest me.

State cop: Sir, who are you with?

Me: I’m with the Statesman.

State cop: You need to leave or are you going to be subject to criminal trespass as well. You heard the speech earlier (from Evans).

Me: As a reporter …

State cop: As anybody. Are you going to turn yourself in for criminal trespass?

Me: It seems like an event I should be able to cover.

State cop: You need to leave. You need to leave. You need to leave.

Me: As a reporter …

State cop: You need to leave. YOU NEED TO LEAVE.

On my way out, I attempted to approach Evans.

“I’ll tell you anything you want but I do not want to see my name in the paper,” Evans said.

At that point my escorts were determined that I leave the building, but I was perplexed about Evans’ comment.

He was cast, once again, as the good guy in this production, arriving at the scene in his black robe, and respectfully explaining to the protestors that the police had no interest in arresting them, and the sheriff no interest in jailing them. But, he explained that they could still be charged with criminal trespass and appear before a judge if that was their desire, and that he and his clerk were there to facilitate that process by issuing summonses that would allow them to go home without being booked and jailed last night and then appear in court in July.

Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans explains the choices to protestors occupying Gov. Abbott's Reception Room in the Capitol, as attorney Malcolm Greenstein looks on.

Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans explains the choices to protestors occupying Gov. Abbott’s Reception Room in the Capitol, as attorney Malcolm Greenstein looks on.

Win-win civil disobedience.

“Rather than carting us off to jail, which for them would have been very difficult, either needing accessible vehicles or trailing us all the way to the courthouse, and then going to jail, they gave us the option of a summons and the promise to appear on July 7 at 10 a.m.,” said Kafka outside the Capitol after his paperwork had been quickly processed.

Or, as Malcolm Greenstein, reprising his role as Malcolm Greenstein, explained, “they were charged with criminal trespass and they received a field release citation. You get a ticket to show up for court and when they show at JP, they will do paper work and be booked in and booked out at the booking desk. It is in lieu of going to jail now.”

 

Attorney Malcolm Greenstein after the arrests at Gov. Greg Abbott's office

Attorney Malcolm Greenstein after the arrests at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office

“Travis County has adopted this field release program, instead of getting arrested, you show up at a certain time, you go into the bond office, then you get fingerprinted and photographed and released. Then it goes into the system like all other criminal cases. It’s a Class B misdemeanor. What could happen is up to six months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine,” Greenstein explained.

But that seems very unlikely.

Outside the Capitol afterwards, it was a beautiful night, breezy and perfectly temperate.

The disability advocates felt good about how they had spent their day.

A few had slices of pizza, now cold. Dominos had delivered ten pizzas to their blockade a few hours earlier.

Organizer Joe Tate on the arrival of pizza for the demonstrators at Gov. Greg Abbott's office ordered.

Organizer Joe Tate on the arrival of pizza for the demonstrators at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office ordered.

 

But the police would not let the nine protestors ensconced inside the Reception Room eat in that elegant space. (That’s apparently general rule and not specific to people engaged in a sit-in.) If they left the room they were relinquishing their occupation. And the protestors outside the Reception Room refused to have any pizza as long as their inside brothers and sisters were unable to eat.

 

Joe Tate leaves with the cold pizza as demonstrators prepared to be arrested.

Joe Tate leaves with the cold pizza as demonstrators prepared to be arrested.

As everyone disappeared into the night, I rounded the corner at the Capitol on the way to my car and encountered another unlikely scene.

It’s Austin Flow Jam. You know, poi, hooping, acro-yoga, fan-spinning, juggling. Like that.

Every Tuesday night, outside your Capitol.

Here is Kira Bolin, your Flow Jam hostess.

 

Kira Bolin, organizer with boyfriend Chris Rovo, of Austin Flow Jam every Tuesday night at the Capitol

Kira Bolin, organizer with boyfriend Chris Rovo, of Austin Flow Jam every Tuesday night at the Capitol

 

 

Meanwhile, and it may seem incredibly petty bringing this up in the context of what you just read, but when I took a mid-afternoon break from minding the blockade to get something at the Capitol cafeteria, I ordered my usual BLT.

Only then did I read the sign that was staring at me.

 

The Capitol toaster is being repaired.

The Capitol toaster is being repaired.

Our toaster is currently being repaired?

Really? The only toaster in the Texas State Capitol cafeteria is being repaired?

I didn’t think toasters got repaired. I thought you just got a new one.

And, we will see you on Monday? That’s half the remaining time in the session away.

Well, Ok, fine.

No toaster.

Life goes on.

But have you ever had a BLT with the bread untoasted?

I never had and I never will again. It was horrible, virtually inedible.

Everything was identical to the usual Texas State Capitol BLT, which I love, except for the bread not being toasted, and it made all the difference.

That’s all.

 

 

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