Video footage of Black people being violently sprayed with water hoses seems like it should be from the 1950s or 60s — the action of white folks trying to stop the fight for civil rights.
But not even two weeks into 2023, footage of a white San Francisco man spraying a Black woman who is unhoused with a water hose and screaming at her to move off the sidewalk has gone viral across social media.
The clip, which was filmed on Monday, Jan. 9, and uploaded to TikTok and Twitter by San Francisco baker Edson Garcia, shows a man identified by the San Francisco Chronicle as Collier Gwin, the owner of Foster Gwin Gallery, turning his high-pressure garden hose on the unidentified woman.
“Move, move, move!” Gwin screams at her.
She can be seen raising her hands to protect herself from the blast of water. The clip has nearly 16 million views on Twitter alone, and when you watch it, you can hear her crying out “no” and “help.”
“Are you going to move?” Gwin yells in response and points his finger.
In a subsequent interview with the Chronicle, Gwin said the woman, who he called “Cora,” had been disruptive and turned over garbage cans in the neighborhood. He said he’d asked social services and the local police for assistance, but no one has helped — and so he’s not sorry for his actions.
“You know, spraying her’s not the solution, but spraying her was something that woke her up, and that calmed her down,” he told the Chronicle. “So am I sorry? I’m only sorry that … my way of helping her countlessly has gotten nothing done.”
In a statement, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and the ACLU of Northern California said it “strongly denounces this violent and inhumane attack.”
“Unhoused San Franciscans, who are disproportionately Black and Brown, are victims of violence far more frequently than the average San Franciscan,” they said in the statement.
Black People Are a Disproportionate Percentage of the Unhoused Population
The San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s 2022 count of the city’s unhoused population found that 35% of “respondents identified as Black, African American, or African,” even though the city’s only 6% Black.
This trend is true on a national level, too. According to nationwide data compiled by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “African Americans make up 13 percent of the general population, but more than 40 percent of the homeless population.”
These unhoused people aren’t just being subjected to the violent, hostile behavior of individuals like Gwin. Anti-homeless laws nationwide have the ability to funnel more Black folks into the prison pipeline by criminalizing sitting, sleeping, or resting in public spaces.
The Criminalization of Homelessness
In a recent survey of 234 American cities, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found that 40% of municipalities “make it a crime to sleep in public spaces,” and 56% ban loitering in public.
In their statement, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and the ACLU of Northern California point out a Black unhoused woman being hosed happens “in the context of government, societal, and press participation in scapegoating unhoused residents and treating them as though they are objects to be swept, jailed, and harassed, instead of working toward solutions to homelessness like affordable housing.”
For folks who believe the woman should have just moved because she’s disrupting business or making a mess, writer Gennette Cordova broke it down on Twitter.
“Blaming homeless people for homelessness and not the systems that create/allow it is idiotic,” Cordova tweeted. “You feel so inconvenienced by simply having be around unhoused people yet you’re not pushing to expand affordable housing. You just want these people disappeared—which makes you evil.”
As for “Cora,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Gwin, accompanied by one of their reporters, tried to talk to the woman on Tuesday.
They found her wrapped in a bundle of blankets, and Gwin asked her to talk to him. In response, Cora “yelled to Gwin that she planned to call a lawyer.”
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