Sarasota, Florida -- Sarasota, a Gulf Coast city of 53,000 full time residents, is known forits arts scene and nearby beautiful beaches. But some homeless and theAmerican Civil Liberties Union say authorities are trying to harass thehomeless into leaving town.
Surveillance video shows a Sarasota police officer knocking down a homeless man and dragging him across the pavement. The footage was obtained bythe ACLU highlights what some say is a class struggle in this city of high-endcondos overlooking sparkling waters.
"The ACLU found thatofficers were texting each other back and forth about bum hunting, hunting forbums in the city," says ACLU spokesperson Michael Barfield. "At night, during the day, in city parks. And making jokesabout having to beat them up or get into a fight with them."
The organization has filed multiple lawsuits against the city, claiming thatauthorities are try to harass the homeless into leaving town.
"We have an active internal affairsinvestigation and we're going to thoroughly investigate this case and bring itto a conclusion," says Bernadette DiPino, who is being sworn in as Sarasota's new police chief on Friday. "But I'm not at liberty at this point to discuss it becauseunder state statute, it's a confidentiality clause that's involved."
The alleged abuse doesn't surprise some of Sarasota's homeless population.They say a burgeoning number of wealthier folks don't want them them near theirhomes.
"I thinkfor a long time we've had a lot of issues. The fact that we have a lot of wealthypeople downtown and they're not quite used to dealing with the lowly anddowntrodden," says homeless man Steve McAllister.
"I'vebeen homeless. I've been a vagrant and now I'm a bum that's being hunted by bumhunters," adds James Franklin Jr.
For their part, police say offer more services to the homeless than othercities, including referring them to social service programs.