Arcata, Calif. is a town much like Ashland. Both host around 20,000 residents, a college and a growing number of wealthy new residents. Both are known for their progressive heritage, historic downtowns and vibrant sense of community.

And, wanted or not, both Ashland and Arcata have laid claim to a higher than average number of people who live outdoors. Both cities have seen the idea of a legalized camp for homeless people surface, though in different ways. Ashland's peaceful rally on Friday contrasted with a camp-in on city land in Aracta that lasted two weeks and ended with accusations of police violence and 18 arrests.

"Sponsored by a group calling itself the 'People Project,' the two dozen or more campers called fresh attention to the plight of the homeless, objected to what it said are human rights violations by city authorities and demanded creation of a self-governing campground," according to the Arcata Eye, a weekly newspaper in Arcata. "With camping a violation of the Arcata Municipal Code, and campers refusing requests to depart voluntarily, the city moved in ... to clear the park."

Bernie Kaur, an Ashland regular who travels up and down the West Coast, was arrested in Arcata, standing up for landless people's rights, on April 25.

"I really didn't think we were going to get busted," Kaur said. Pictures of his arrest were printed in two Arcata newspapers.

Arcata activists had set up a shanty town of tents on a small city-owned park on 11th and D Streets, Kaur and media reports said.

Kaur said there were "about 40 people and 12 tents." People sang and played instruments, while enjoying an almost constant supply of cooked food.

"There was no evidence of alcohol," said Kaur, who is 61 and makes tie-died T-shirts for a living. "People were holding signs. We were constantly being confronted. Most people just honked but one out of every 100 yelled epithets at us."

The People's Project believes a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, gives them the right to sleep outside if there is no public shelter available.

"The Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles," Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote in the decision.

Arcata Police believe otherwise. At 6:35 that morning, Arcata Police woke the group of about 40 protesters.

"Can anyone tell me what we need to do, within my power, to get you to voluntarily leave," Captain Tom Chapman said according to the North Coast Journal, a Humboldt County weekly. "My preference would be if anyone wants to be arrested for this, you'll be able to step forward and do that."

Kaur said some activists left the park to watch and/or video tape from private property across the street. The 18 people that stayed locked arms but were pulled away from each other and arrested for violating Arcata Municipal Code 10006.

"We looked it up," Kaur said. "It means you can't be in the park that long."

Kaur, who is 6-foot, 5-inches tall, was one of the last people arrested that day.

"They just started yanking people off," he said. "They started with the weakest they could find. They probably treated me better than the others because I'm an old man. The younger people they treated pretty bad."

Pictures taken of Kaur being arrested depict a man in pain, but he says adrenaline had taken over by the time he was being arrested.

"You gotta understand, when you do this kind of protest, you don't know what's going to happen," he said. "People were hooraying us. We didn't feel anything."

But, he added, the experience was also "traumatic and scary. One cop, while he was pulling me off, grabbed this finger. It's still a little sore. I'm older and I don't heal as fast."

Captain Marshall, of Arcata Police, said in the North Coast Journal, that police officers were "as compassionate and considerate as possible under the circumstances."

Kaur was put in a police van and brought to Eureka to be processed. He was given a court date and released.

He said the People's Project action succeeded in bringing attention to the difficulties of being homeless in America.

"They wouldn't have mistreated us if they weren't afraid of us," he said. "They would have left us alone."

Kaur has been staying and travelling through Ashland for the better part of 30 years. He is not homeless, as he is the caretaker of property in the hills above Talent. He has a vegetable garden there, some grape vines and a small cottage with no heat or electricity.

"I got beat up by police for sticking up for people who are homeless," he said. "They are human beings, that's where they live. Leave 'em alone. It's not their land anyway, they just stole it from the Indians."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .