For the second time in fewer than three weeks, Erica Muskgrow's belongings have been confiscated by city workers. After her bags of clothes and hygiene items were taken at Stranahan Park on June 23, the chronically homeless woman moved to Fort Lauderdale Beach. Last Tuesday, her clothes, blanket, bus pass, and ID were removed once again — except this time, Muskgrow says police went too far.
On July 12, Muskgrow contends that two officers used racial slurs when they kicked her off the public beach near A1A and Las Olas Boulevard.
“They got really close to my face, intimidated me, called me a nigger bitch,” Muskgrow tells New Times. "I felt threatened and feared for my life. I started crying."
Fort Lauderdale police spokesperson Tracy Figone says she has no knowledge of the most recent incident and declined comment.
For years, city officials have tried to find ways to clean up one of the most troubled sections of the city. In 2014, the city cited 90-year-old activist Arnold Abbott on the beach for feeding the homeless, then limited such activity. That controversy dates back more than a decade.
Muskgrow's frustration illuminates the growing divide between officials and the homeless people who feel unfairly targeted by the ordinances they pass (like an ordinance that essentially prevents homeless from keeping belongings). It will all come to a head Friday afternoon when the Broward Continuum of Care Board meets to discuss problems and solutions with the homeless at Stranahan Park. In the meantime, Muskgrow and homeless advocate Jeff Weinberger are in the process of lodging a formal complaint against the officers.
"Stealing the belongings of the most vulnerable people and the ultimate 'have-nots' in the city is shameful enough," says Weinberger, an activist with the October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness. "But those cops spreading that racist icing on this shit-cake gives this incident an entirely different dimension."
At 11 a.m. July 12, Erica Muskgrow and two friends, who are also chronically homeless say they were relaxing on the public beach near A1A and Las Olas Boulevard when Fort Lauderdale Police accosted them. All three say they weren't panhandling, drinking, or bothering anybody. But when Muskgrow and Jennifer Shoop returned to the beach from the nearby 7-Eleven, they say police officers had already ordered city workers to throw out their belongings.
"I was in complete shock," says Shoop, who also had her belongings — including vital blood pressure medication — confiscated at Stranahan Park in June. "We already have so little. How can they just keep taking from us?"
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According to the group, police officers informed them they couldn't sleep on the beach and told them to "go back over the bridge" to downtown Fort Lauderdale. Muskgrow then says she argued that it was a public beach and she could stay. Then all three say the two officers were frustrated and yelled at Muskgrow, allegedly calling her a "nigger bitch."
"These two officers got right in [Erica's] face and called her these racist things," Shoop says. "She was all choked up."
The group says police waited for them to catch the bus back to downtown Fort Lauderdale. Currently, Muskgrow is working to acquire clothes, a bus pass, and an ID again.
“It's just like, where am I supposed to go?" she says. "Everywhere I go, the cops and city keep bothering me."