Last Friday, a jogger was filmed destroying the encampment of a homeless man at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA. The video showed the aftermath of the jogger throwing the man’s belongings into the lake in front of shocked onlookers. The video went viral, but the story just kept getting weirder.
The next day, the jogger—who was referred to on social media as #JoggerJoe, and was later identified by the blog Oakland News Now and then by the Oakland Police Department to Splinter as a man named Henry Sintay—and a friend went back to Lake Merritt. Matt Nelson, an Oakland resident and the executive director of the online Latinx social justice organization Presente.org, filmed Sintay as he attempted to fish the homeless man’s stuff out of the lake. (News reports have said that the man is known as either Drew or Jarew, and he was later identified by the Mercury News as Greg Markson.)
Nelson was streaming the encounter on Facebook Live, and was even having a fairly genial conversation with the man. When Nelson asked him what he was doing in the lake, Sintay responded that he was “trying to do the fucking right thing.”
“I pick up trash all over the place,” Sintay said. “Like this dude’s stuff?” Nelson asked. “His shit, anybody’s shit, but it’s trash,” Sintay responded.
“He’s been a resident here for a long time,” Nelson told Sintay in the video. “That’s his stuff. Why would anyone grab his stuff and move it?”
Eventually, Nelson introduced himself, and Sintay reached out to Nelson to shake his hand. Then he grabbed Nelson’s phone and assaulted him. “Are you out of your mind?” Nelson says in the video, and calls out for help as Sintay runs off with the phone, not knowing the incident was being livestreamed.
Oakland police said in an email to Splinter that they arrested Sintay on Monday and charged him on Wednesday with a felony second-degree robbery. Sintay was arraigned on Wednesday, according to court records, and has a plea hearing scheduled for Monday; CBS News reported that he was being held on $100,000 bail. (We reached out to Sintay for comment on Monday via Facebook, before his arrest became public knowledge. We will update with any response.)
Splinter asked the Oakland Police Department if it had identified Sintay’s friend, but the police didn’t respond to that question.
Nelson, meanwhile, wrote on Facebook that he was assaulted “multiple times” and “dragged by [Sintay and his friends’] moving vehicle and hit a few times in the head.” In an interview with Splinter, he said that he had been diagnosed with a mild concussion, and had bruising, cuts, and scrapes on his head and body.
Nelson said he was glad Sintay was arrested, but expressed regret that Sintay wasn’t charged for trashing Drew’s possessions.
“Henry’s arrest was a result of so many people who came forward, who cared and were committed to the well-being of all Oakland residents,” Nelson said. “And it also speaks volumes that Henry mistreated and robbed and destroyed Drew’s possessions, and that didn’t rise to the level of a robbery as it should have. I am relieved that Henry was arrested. I think he should be held accountable for assaulting me as well as abusing Drew.”
In the days since the first video went viral, a GoFundMe was set up for Markson, the homeless man. As of this morning, the GoFundMe had raised nearly $12,000 to help Markson rebuild his life, far beyond the initial $3,000 goal that was set. “I’m grateful for the help and concern,” Markson told the Mercury News.
According to the Mercury News, Markson didn’t want Sintay prosecuted. “I guess we all have bad days and bad times,” he said.
Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf—whose national profile has been elevated this year due to very public fight with the Trump administration and Congress, after she issued a warning alerting undocumented immigrants in her city to impending ICE raids—addressed the incident at a press conference on Wednesday.
“I recognize people are frustrated, but that is absolutely no excuse for disposing of someone else’s possessions, littering our lake, or assaulting an individual who was questioning the gentleman when he came back,” Schaaf said. “I do recognize people are frustrated with the blight, the unsightliness that comes with our unsheltered residents. But let us be compassionate.”
“We in government have got to figure out a way, in a region that is as wealthy as ours, to provide basic shelter for people,” she added.
In May, Schaaf and Oakland City Council member Abel Guillen announced that they would request $500,000 to hire three “litter enforcement officers” to combat the city’s problem of “illegal dumping,” a request that drew criticism from some activists. “This proposal will purposefully increase the policing and criminalization of communities of color,” Oakland Food Policy Council executive director Shaniece Alexander wrote in a Medium post addressed as an open letter to Schaaf and Oakland’s city council.
In February 2017, the East Bay Express reported that Oakland police and the city had cleared out an un-permitted homeless settlement called The Village in north Oakland just a few weeks after it was set up. Oakland police did not answer a question about what they do with homeless encampments when they come across them, but Schaaf’s communications director Justin Berton told Splinter that the OPD is “not the primary agency that addresses or engages homeless encampments”—that would be outreach and human services workers, Berton says—unless there’s “criminal behavior.”
The East Bay Times reported last year that the rate of homelessness had shot up 25 percent between 2015 and 2017 in Oakland, and the treatment of the city’s homeless earned a sharp rebuke from a UN special rapporteur earlier this year. Berton said that Schaaf’s office “continues on a path of compassion and capacity,” and Schaaf announced on Wednesday that nearly $9 million had been earmarked in the California state budget for Oakland to address homelessness. (Last week, Governor Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders reached a budget deal which overall included a $600 million investment for cities to address homelessness.)
Berton also said that Oakland is accelerating its own efforts to address the housing crisis, telling Splinter that the city will build 3,600 new housing units by the end of 2018. According to Berton, this is three times as many as the city has has ever built in one year.
Nelson has hope that the incidents at Lake Merritt will spark a conversation on how to solve the Bay Area’s homeless crisis. “In a place that has so much wealth and resources like the Bay Area, this is becoming an embarrassment, that we can’t house everyone who needs housing,” he said.
“I think that part of what I think needs to happen is that we need to treat each other more like neighbors. Especially the unhoused, unsheltered, and the invisible,” Nelson added. “It’s clear that that’s where Drew lives, he sleeps on concrete, and there are so many people in the Bay Area who live in insecure housing. You may not see it every day, but it points to the dramatic scale of the crisis.”