Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hobo Kenneth Burr, thirty-five years old, was murdered on December 5, 1984, in Santa Barbara, California. Shortly after, a flier was tacked to trees and telephone poles.
“This is a warning to all tree people,” it read. “You are not welcome here in Santa Barbara. I will make life difficult for you. I have a faithful and respected group of citizens behind me. You bastards are low life scum and will not endure. I promise you.”
The flier was signed “B. Ware.” The phrase “tree people” referred to the homeless men and women who slept in a park under or near a Moreton Bay fig tree, a member of the ficus family with a trunk 40 feet in diameter. This stunning specimen could shade ten thousand people on a sunny day, by one estimate.
A resident unconnected to Burr's slaying had posted the flier, wishing to capitalize on the murder to scare away the tree people. At the same time, cops were “sweeping” the homeless at night to make their lives uncomfortable.
At midnight, commotion: blazing lights, shouts, police moving in fast. Dozens of tree people, clutching blankets and sleeping bags, fled. We ran with them. I looked back at the encroaching phalanx of cops and sputtered, indignant, “How can they do this!? This isn't right!”
“Where do you think you are?” he asked. “Someplace like America?”

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