Wednesday, April 19, 2006

THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO BE

Writing for National Review Online under the pseudonym “Jack Dunby,” an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department comments on the recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court granting injunctive relief against a Los Angeles city ordinance criminalizing sitting, lying, or sleeping on sidewalks or other public places:

“The Constitutional Right to Be a Bum”

http://www.nationalreview.com/dunphy/dunphy200604180716.asp

To the author’s credit, he provided links to both opinions in the 2-1 decision. The 47 page majority decision:

http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf/8138B5E4723C6FE988257150005B327E/$file/0455324.pdf?openelement

And the 25 page minority opinion:

http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf/4F95BCD1509DE07688257150005B8CD9/$file/0455324d.pdf?openelement

I recommend reading both, along with Officer Dunby’s interpretation.

The facts behind the issue are sickening. Los Angeles County is home to tens of thousands of homeless persons – it is estimated that the homeless population exceeds available accommodations by at least 50,000.  “Skid Row” in Los Angeles is, according to the Court’s documentation, a fifty-square block district wherein live as many as 12,000 people. According to the Court, the City, since the mid 1970’s, has encouraged the concentration of the homeless in this area by concentrating homeless services in the district. Today, shelters and low-rent rooms in the district provide beds for about 10,000 persons. Most of the people who live in the district spend at least some time every month sleeping on the streets. Generally, if a person is taken into police custody – for whatever reason – the direct, immediate result is losing everything they own, since the arresting officers make no effort to secure the detainee’s meager belongings.

Officer Dunby characterizes Skid Row as “an underworld far beyond your worst imaginings”… and a “frothing maelstrom of depravity”… while insisting “The population of Skid Row in Los Angeles can be categorized as follows: the addicted, the crazy, and the lazy. In more than 20 years with the LAPD, many of them spent working in and around Skid Row, I've encountered only a handful of the truly unfortunate”…

The Court, in Officer Dunby’s view, by accepting the plaintiffs' “sob stories,” is demonstrating “a degree of gullibility troubling to find in those entrusted with high office.” Dunby insists “If these woeful tales are indeed true, then the plaintiffs are the only six people on Skid Row who are truly involuntarily homeless.” Ignoring the dearth of available housing, Dunby insists “You could have all the shelters you like on Skid Row… but if they all enforced those pesky prohibitions against the various vices there would still be a substantial number of bums out on the streets enjoying a life unconstrained by expectations that they behave themselves.”

I can’t help but intuit that the man is supremely frustrated… Frustrated to the point he deliberately mis-characterizes the decision. Summing the situation, Officer Dunby opines: “Thus, if the city cannot provide a bed for every last bum on the street, it is enjoined from arresting those who make their home on the sidewalks.”

Yet the actual decision plainly states the opposite:

“By our decision, we in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets of Los Angeles at any time and at any place within the City. All we hold is that, so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in Los Angeles than the number of available beds, the City may not enforce section 41.18(d) at all times and places throughout the City against homeless individuals for involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public. Appellants are entitled at a minimum to a narrowly tailored injunction against the City’s enforcement of section 41.18(d) at certain times and/or places.”

I think Dunby is dead wrong. Although I am not qualified to have an opinion, I find the majority’s reasoning and interpretation of precedent more logical and compelling than the dissent.

And I find it a lot more human than the views of this obviously jaded, overly-judgmental cop.

Dunby implies the Court has created “a Constitutional right to be a bum.” I demur. What the Court has affirmed is a Constitutional right to BE. One of the freedoms a free society guarantees is the freedom to fail – fail, and try again, or not. When the city sweeps up people who have nowhere to go, treating them like garbage, causing them to lose everything they own, the city accomplishes nothing except perpetuation of the problem…

Its job security for the “Dunby’s” of the world, I suppose…

To which I would like to offer a bit of advice:

Get a new job. You and those of your fellows who stand with you on this. If this is an example of your approach to policing, you aren’t doing society any good. If you can no longer distinguish compassion from surrender, get a new job. If you can no longer support the Court but rather insist on mischaracterizing its decisions publicly, get a new job.

And the next time somebody calls you “pig,” consider for a moment they may have a point…

Comments:
His name is Dunphy not Dunby, dunbarse.

You summed things up rather well with this, and I quote, "Although I am not qualified to have an opinion,"

It really shows. Maybe you should try riding a shift with a major PD and see what kind of human filth has a constitutional right "to be." I'm certain you'd like them in front of your house.

And what exactly is wrong with an officer having a personal opinion? Does it conflict with his/her carrying out their duties in a professional manner even if they find some of those duties distasteful? If it doesn't then what exactly is the problem?
 
"...When the city sweeps up people who have nowhere to go, treating them like garbage, causing them to lose everything they own, the city accomplishes nothing except perpetuation of the problem..."

What perpetuates the problem is people abusing drugs and flocking to the warmest spot with the least regulations - and living out their lazy inane lives.

Love this issue, the homeless, if you say it like it is you are a cruel person. But it's an issue you have to be cruel to be kind. They need to be off the streets - and strict ordinances need to suport that. Stick them in shelters. Warm liberal spots like LA need to build lots of shelters.
 
Hey anon, when you have nothing important to say, try non-points or insults...

What if the "filth" was your kid?
 
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