23 June 2015

Google's New Motto: "Be Evil"

The search company is now hiring private goons to harass homeless on public streets near their new offices in Los Angeles: (link temporarily public)
How does Google, one of the most cash-rich and innovative companies in the world, propose to deal with the issue of homelessness in America? What's its 21st century, New Economy solution to disrupt and solve this difficult socio-economic problem once and for all?

In Los Angeles, the company's fix is brilliantly simple: Hire private security to harass and push the homeless out of sight, and then make sure that the smelly bastards and their tents and carts never come back.

I have seen this solution in action myself. I live just around the corner from Google’s new campus in Venice, LA — two big properties located right off the beach, smack in the middle of Venice's tiny Skid Row. Los Angeles is in the grips of a homeless population explosion, with an increase of 12 percent just in the last year. And this small two-square-block area used to be one of the last places where homeless people were somewhat tolerated around these parts.

But not any more — not after Google decided to claim sidewalks for itself and cranked up aggressive security patrols in order to drive away the local homeless population.

"Me and my girlfriend got maced by doing nothing,” a man named "Cory" [not his real name] tells me. He has steely blue eyes and shaggy hair, and looks more like an aging surfer than someone who sleeps rough on the streets. He recounts a recent experience he claims to have had with a Google security guard while sitting on a public sidewalk near the company's campus.

“He wanted us to leave. I had water in both hands so I couldn’t attack. And we’re like, 'what the fuck, man?' And he was just like, pshhhhh,” he continues, reenacting the hissing sound of the mace spray can and explaining that they were given no time to leave or react in any way. "My girlfriend didn’t want to be there. Actually she was terrified of them. Every time Google security came, she said ‘we gotta go, we gotta go.’ We’re not allowed to be on public sidewalks, even though we’re the public.”

I'm talking to him on a sidewalk in the shade of a small tree on 3rd Avenue, which runs between a self-storage business and the backside of Google’s newest property, a giant warehouse that’s currently being remodeled into an expansive new Google office space.

………

"We running a business here. Can't have homeless people out here like that. We got geeks. They're scaring folks.”

That's what I was told — firsthand, no hearsay — by a Google security guard who was patrolling the perimeter. It was a chilly Los Angeles evening in mid-February, and the security guard wore a fleece and baseball cap emblazoned with the cheery Google logo. A Google employee badge dangled at his belt.

The reason he was speaking so freely is that I hadn't mentioned I was a member of the press — largely because, that evening at least, I wasn't. I was just another Venice area local, on my way home from the gym, who had stopped to chat to the guard. I certainly hadn't expected him to so candidly explain how Google employees — and especially Google executives — were freaked out by the homeless people outside its walls. So freaked out that he was hired on as part of a beefed up security presence aimed at clearing the public street that bisects Google’s two properties of any homeless presence.

………

Google's no homeless on the sidewalk policy may make sense for the company. The catch is that the sidewalks don't belong to Google: they're public property, and a federal court had mandated that Los Angeles allow people to sleep there between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am, as long as they leave a little room for foot traffic and don’t block any doors or driveways. This restriction is part of a settlement that has been in place since 2007, and neither police nor a corporate giant like Google has the legal right to determine who can or cannot sleep on any given chunk of sidewalk in LA.

………

“From the point of view of low-income, African-American, and Latino residents of Venice — what does Google mean to us? Pretty much all bad news,” said Bill Przylucki, who heads People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), a community organization in West Los Angeles. “They are gonna displace other type of businesses that do pay taxes — they are gonna get tax breaks. That means less money for the local park, the library, the public services that we rely on. They are not gonna provide jobs to our folks. Our folks are not the people they are gonna be hiring. They are gonna drive up rents, put more pressure on our folks, and put more pressure on landlords to displace our members through evictions and demolitions.”

Przylucki says POWER approached Google to see if the company would use its influence and sheer star power to push for low-income housing in Venice and Los Angeles, and to fight against the criminalization of poverty in their neighborhood. But their attempts at cooperation went nowhere.

“They have a shitload of power," says Przylucki. “But they didn’t show any interest whatsoever in working with that side of the community. And that silence is deafening in terms of their position.”

Google was more than just silent: Community organizations discovered that Google was almost impossible to reach or talk to in any meaningful way on a local level. The company was so centralized and opaque — and so deaf to local requests — that activists say they've had more success in getting giant banks and subprime lenders like Countrywide Financial to address community concerns than they've had in talking to Google.
This last bit is not surprising, actually.

Google has, as a matter of policy, has made it impossible to reach an actual human being in all of its other endeavors, so being unresponsive to community groups is not a surprise.

The last two paragraphs say it all:
Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin like to talk about how they want to leverage their company's resources and immense talent pool to change the world for the better. The company wants to bring Internet connections to the poorest communities around the world and funds efforts to combat human trafficking and gender inequality.

But when confronted at its doorstep with a real societal challenge like homelessness — an issue that truly requires innovation, investment, public service, and political maneuvering — the company simply reverts to the cheapest and meanest solution on the books: hire thugs to push the problem out of sight and force other people deal with it.

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