In the midst of a Steelheads hockey game, an elaborate private party at the newly constructed JUMP building and a bustling night in downtown Boise, a group of nearly 50 protesters planted themselves next to the giant Christmas tree on the Grove Plaza. They held cardboard signs that read, "Where would you stay if you missed three paychecks?" and "Evict Bieter," "Baby Jesus was homeless" and "Exile is not a solution."
Many of the protesters held flameless candles as they partook in a candlelight vigil/protest
organized Dec. 5 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho
. ACLU-Idaho Executive Director Leo Morales requested a moment of silence for those who lost their homes during the police sweep of Cooper Court.
"It's not a solution," he said into a bullhorn. "It's a way to sanitize the city. We want to make sure the city of Boise continues to work for a permanent solution on this issue."
Of the 135 people removed from Cooper Court
this weekend, only a handful of them showed up to the protest. Morales said the rest were probably trying to figure out "what corner, what bridge, what river" they would sleep in, under or beside that night.
One of the former residents of Cooper Court, Don Brown, was among the 15 people who took up the city's offer to stay Friday night at the Fort Boise Community Center, which the city turned into a temporary shelter through Saturday afternoon. He said so few people stayed there because they don't like shelters in the first place, and the city's offer was no different from what they'd been avoiding.
"I am not staying in those shelters because I get claustrophobic," he said. "We asked for hotel vouchers, but we got none. I like to be around people, like family. That's what Cooper Court was. We were family."
Brown wasn't sure where he would go after the rally ended Saturday night. He did not hide his frustration with the city of Boise and the police department.
"They have to deal with us," he said. "We are residents, too. Mayor Bieter, I would ask you, what are you going to do for the homeless? What about our rights? You gave everybody else rights. Where do we live in the future? And if the governor wants to sit behind his desk and let the mayor do this, he better watch his back, too. We're going to storm the Capitol soon."
Brown said former Cooper Court residents plan to march on City Hall and the Capitol Building, "until the mayor gets the clear message to get us housing and stops sending the police department after us."
A m an who identified himself as Jer-Z took the bullhorn next and shared the same anger as Brown.
"By offering us one night of shelter, they tricked us into getting out of or tent city," he said, "Ain't no one wants homeless people around, but guess what: we're here. We're not going anywhere. ... In tent city, if we fart too loud, it makes front page news. The fire is going and I'm going to put as much gasoline on this as I can."
Jer-Z started to lose his audience when he made comparisons between his plight and the hundreds of refugees who have resettled in Boise over the years.
"We've got 200 Somalian refugees and they ain't homeless," he said. "My answering machine says, 'For English, press one. For everyone else, go back to where you came from.'"
His comment was met with boos and scoldings.
As the protest wrapped up, ACLU-Idaho Legal Director Ritchie Eppink rallied the crowd to take signs and go to every street corner in the downtown corridor, spreading the message that members of the Cooper Court community had been treated unfairly.
"There are people downtown—holiday shopping, out for events—and they need to know," Eppink said. "[The city] destroyed a community."