Vernard Sands was sitting on a plastic crate at NE 79th Street and Miami Court in Little River on November 11, 2016, when a Miami Police car rolled up. The cops told the 35-year-old homeless man he was breaking the law — by illegally sitting on a crate. Then, a cop identified in police reports as Officer Mclean cuffed Sands, charged him with “unlawful use of a dairy case,” a misdemeanor, and took him to jail. Sands spent the night behind bars, all because he had been sitting on a crate.
Sands’ ordeal isn’t uncommon. In the past three years, Miami-area police have sent at least 49 people to jail for “unlawful use of a dairy case” (AKA sitting on one), according to booking data from the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections. During that same time, 58 people were arrested for possession of a shopping cart.
Both minor charges, activists say, are used almost exclusively to hassle homeless people, who often sit on crates and use carts to carry their possessions (or on Miami Beach, to hawk coconuts). They say the arrests cost taxpayers, clog jails, and do little to ease homelessness in Miami.
“Punishing people for sitting on a milk crate is just another way Miami is criminalizing homelessness,” says Jackie Azis, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida.
Miami-area cops have a well-deserved reputation for harassing the homeless. In the 1980s, Miami police routinely arrested transients for minor misdemeanors like being in a park after dark and sitting on sidewalks in a blatant effort to scare them into leaving. The problem was so bad that advocates sued and eventually forced the city to sign a resolution, called the Pottinger Agreement, which forces police to offer the homeless help and forbids them from arresting the homeless simply for living on the streets.
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