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Boise Mayor Dave Bieter Shuts Down City Council Meeting Over Cooper Court Protests


- Demonstrators gathered Dec. 8 in front of Boise City Hall to protest the city's actions at Cooper Court. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Demonstrators gathered Dec. 8 in front of Boise City Hall to protest the city's actions at Cooper Court.

Update 2:45 p.m.

Earlier this morning, Cooper Court community organizer Jodi Petersen announced that a potential agreement between members of Boise's homeless community and "private citizens" interested in helping provide space for people experiencing homelessness had collapsed on account of protests at Boise City Hall.

"The news coverage at City Hall painted a terrifying picture of what may lay ahead for the people offering a temporary site for shelter," she wrote. 

ACLU-Idaho was one of the organizers of the Dec. 8 demonstration at Boise City Hall that resulted in the disruption of a city council meeting. Executive Director Leo Morales said while he applauded volunteers working to provide shelter for those displaced by events at Cooper Court, "It's extremely important for all community members to be involved" in the issue of homelessness in Boise.

Morales said focus should remain on Boise city leaders who removed residents from Cooper Court.

"What is occurring is a direct result of not having a permanent solution," he said, adding that ACLU-Idaho will "continue to apply pressure to the city."

Cooper Court Update: I first want to thank everyone who has cared enough to offer support and lend a hand. I also want...

Posted by Jodi Margolin-Peterson on Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Original Post 11:08 a.m.

The morning of Dec. 9, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter opened public testimony at City Hall on the issue of Cooper Court with a plea: The evening before, he ended a scheduled Boise City Council meeting early because of protesters demanding answers and action regarding the Dec. 5 sweep of the homeless encampment. He didn't want a repeat performance.

"Last night was a very tough meeting, and I hope we can avoid that in the future," he said.

It wasn't meant to be. After concluding public testimony on the issue, Bieter offered his own remarks, telling the crowd he didn't believe the health and safety situation at Cooper Court was sustainable. 

Chants of "Do something now!" erupted from attendees, and Bieter shut down a second public meeting in as many days. 

The evening before, ACLU of Idaho and other protesters demonstrated outside Boise City Hall, waving signs and banging on plastic buckets. There, ACLU-Idaho Legal Director Ritchie Eppink summed up the situation and provided a preview of what was to come later in the evening.

"There's a lot of outrage and misinformation, and some of it's coming from the city," he said. "This is the first real opportunity for people to confront city leaders who are saying this is a success."

Brian Johnson, a homeless U.S. Army veteran who lived in Cooper Court, wanted answers. The Dec. 5 sweep, he said, triggered his post traumatic stress disorder.

"It was the same way we'd roll into towns [in Iraq]," Johnson said. "We'd roll in fast, we'd roll in heavy. It scares the populace. When you're dealing with 135 homeless people, it's not what you want."

The crowd of approximately 50 protesters moved to the third floor of City Hall, where the City Council had recently gone into session. Still holding their signs, the demonstrators entered council chambers demanding city leaders hear their grievances, yelling "Let him speak!" and "Shame!" 

City spokesman Mike Journee said City Hall is a public space open to demonstrations.

"This is an opportunity for free speech. We'll accommodate them any way we can," he said.

When councilwoman Elaine Clegg reminded the group city ordinances prohibited the council from hearing their concerns on the spot, taking several 5-minute breaks, the group demanded to be put on the next city council agenda. Bieter offered one better, agreeing to meet with protesters at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 9, before adjourning the meeting early. Minimal city business on the agenda was conducted.

At that point, approximately 30 demonstrators moved from Boise City Hall to the Boise Centre on the Grove, where they chanted "One-two-three-four, I declare a class war! Five-six-seven-eight, eat the rich and smash the state!" One of the demonstrators, who called himself "Anthony" said events at Cooper Court intersected with an anarchist political ideology.

"The concept of property is theft," Anthony said, adding Cooper Court is "inherently a challenge to the system." He didn't think meeting with Mayor Bieter would change anything.

"I'm not interested in talking to Bieter. They all showed what they think about the homeless," he said.

- Jer-Z Jones addresses protesters at an impromptu meeting with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and Housing and Community Development Director AnaMarie Guiles the morning of Dec. 9. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Jer-Z Jones addresses protesters at an impromptu meeting with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and Housing and Community Development Director AnaMarie Guiles the morning of Dec. 9.
Another of the demonstrators, Riley Johnson, said community outrage against disruptions of a Boise City Council meeting and against Cooper Court were misplaced.

"It's much more disturbing to me that people were kicked out of their homes than what happened tonight," she said. "I would emphasize that it's less disturbing to other people."

The special Dec. 9 forum granted by the mayor began with Bieter requesting attendees be respectful of speakers. He then went through the list of people who had signed up to address him and Housing and Community Development Director AnaMarie Guiles. The first was Jer-Z Jones, who bent the microphone around the podium to speak directly to attendees.

"What they did was put a Band-Aid over a heart wound," Jones said. "They didn't solve anything."

Referring to continued protests and demonstrations against city leaders, he said, "The heat is on," and called for negative media coverage of the city's action. 

Many attendees who spoke talked about the need for emergency and transitional housing in Boise. Dani Fuller, who said she is homeless, worried dispersing the residents of the tent city imperiled people no longer protected by a community, and a greater range of housing options would help people like her improve their situation. Shavone Hasse told Bieter and Guiles places like Cooper Court were part of the solution to homelessness, not the problem.

"We need tent cities. We need temporary housing. We need Section 8. You need to change the way you talk about housing," she said. 

Some of the testimony promised negative outcomes for the city. Some bordered on threats. Anthony, who was ejected from a Boise City Council meeting in 2013 during the city's consideration of its sit/lie ordinance, said he "played the game" then, but he "wouldn't be surprised if not everyone play[ed] so well this time."

When Bieter said he didn't know how many people had slept on shelter floors the night before, Anthony told the mayor, "I think it's relevant to the issues here because people are living in conditions that wouldn't be allowed in jail."

After public testimony, Bieter referenced the threats to health and safety at Cooper Court, but the crowd began to chant "Do something now!" At that point, he closed the session but not before a different type of threat was voiced.

"I'm the granny, and I'm angry, and I was going to blow you the fuck up," Susan Rogers-Cole, one homeless protester, told Bieter.