“Captain” – An American Classic
by Tammy Jones
James Little got his nickname, “Captain,” years ago when he was wearing a boat captain’s hat and disputing confiscation of one of his hand made trailers by the Sacramento police officers nicknamed, in the homeless community, “Batman” and “Robin.” It was taken to the City dump, then “squashed flat as a pancake,” Batman (Officer Mark Zoulas) told him later. When it was dragged away, someone in the crowd shouted out, “Build another one, Captain! A bigger one, a faster one!”James-SummerHome1.JPG

And so he did. The nick name fit because of his confident demeanor and stalwart independence. Captain has lived in Sacramento for more than twenty years, originally working as a printer with the Sacramento Union and other presses until those skilled jobs were eliminated and he was laid off. “No money, no job, no nuttin,” he says, in describing his loss of stable housing and income.

Living on the streets, supporting himself through recycling, Captain is a familiar, friendly figure in the community, and in his own way a creative artist. The trailers he builds are movable, bicycle powered residences made of scrap metal, wood, and canvas tarps, snug at night and rain proof. Captain’s trailers have provided accommodations for himself, and, when his dog Lucky was alive, for Lucky too.
Twice he won thousand dollar settlements from the City of Sacramento for its wanton destruction of his property, with assistance from the Tommy Clinkenbeard Legal Clinic. The third time he was awarded a settlement as part of the 2010 federal lawsuit for the class of homeless persons (Lehr v. City of Sacramento) who also had their precious possessions confiscated and destroyed.

Currently, he is still fighting camping tickets for violating Sacramento’s City Ordinance banning sleeping outside for more than one night. This harsh and nonsensical criminalization of homelessness relies on arrests to address the lack of housing, and ends up both costing money and inflicting hardship on people who have no where else to go. Telling people to travel “down the road” has proven ineffective and yet is still the only policy the City and County have to deal with the lack of housing and night time shelter – citations for violating the anti-camping ordinance increased by 2,000 per cent in 2011 over the previous year.

As Captain says, sometimes he has had up to 20 camping citations pending, but he doesn’t get as many lately. He thinks he may have gotten around 20 camping citations in 2012. He has beaten them all. The cases usually end up being dropped. When asked how it makes him feel he said “I don’t care about getting camping tickets. I’ll see them in court.”

As the tent city near the City dump was broken down by the police in 2009, a picture of Captain cycling high on the levee against the brilliant winter dusk, pulling his bike trailer piled high with recycling, was flashed around the world, an image of American ingenuity and resistance. James Little has shown the world that he will not stand down! Captain will always live free.