When Laws Should not be Enforced

Oldtimer’s comment, added on the 25th:  I warned the Mayor on the 21st, he called me on the 22d, I posted this article on the 23d,  and today I found out that Dominic, a homeless friend was found frozen to death huddled behind a local business on the 22d.  It means the Mayor likely already knew about the death when he said NO! to the moritorium and delay until warmer weather.  Now read the whole story and my warnings.  I predict we will find homeless people dead in various hiding places until spring.  Our Mayor and his Council are directly responsible for not heeding the numerous warnings from the community!  They cut up their tents, put their sleeping bags and clothing in garbage trucks and sent them into 19 degree weather to die.  The remainder is from Jan 23, 2008:

The Mayor of the City That Doesn’t Care (aka Marietta, Georgia) called me yesterday.  Make no mistake our Mayor does care and cares deeply!  We had a long and good discussion and he gave me full permission to report what he has said and he said all the right things.   He is sympathetic to the problem and supportive of our mission to help the homeless, including those that are being evicted from the meager existence they call home, whether cardboard box, blue tarp, or simply a sleeping bag under a bush.

He expressed appreciation for what we and and our mission team are doing and called it “good ministry”.  

The gist of it all, however, is that the unhoused homeless people have to be out by Wednesday (today) and there will be no exceptions and no delays due to the weather.  

He assured me that the city does not have any access to helicopters and no money to rent one if we did.  That a helicopter was going to be used to hunt down the homeless was just a rumor that developed among the homeless after a meeting of a police commander with the nearby MUST ministries.  MUST has been hosting some 75 residents and feeding the unhoused a meal each weekday.   (The homeless were not invited to the meeting, but thought they were.)  The city also met with the “Mad Housers” which is a group of saints that build simple structures for the homeless.  The city is graciously allowing the Mad Housers to leave the structures in place until they have time to move them. 

Essentially the Mayor said that all homeless camping in Marietta will be sent packing and if they don’t go they will be immediately arrested.  

It was my understanding that all homeless camped on private property that have the permission of the property owner can stay, but the health department will be called to determine if there are suitable sanitary facilities, and whether the campsite is safely habitable.  If not, they will be ordered out and arrested if they refuse the order.  

He suggested that some private property owners might allow them to camp, but the health department will be required to check out the property.   The Mayor seems sympathetic but admitted he has had to call the police in the past about his own property (warehouse nearby) due to homeless camping behind it resulting in concern and complaints from female staff entering and leaving the building. 

How it started:   The Mayor said that the problem started with a series of burglaries that were traced to a homeless person.  They had his picture and went to all the camps to find him, but he had absconded, already left town for parts unknown. 

However the camps on right of ways and on public and private property which they found in the heat of the hunt are illegal and the City can’t NOT enforce the law, and now that the police know where they are, they must be removed, period, no matter the consequences.  End of story.

OK, herein lies a problem for my sensibilities. 

If a law that must be enforced  will bring about, or is likely to bring about. or may bring about serious harm or death of an individual, should that law not be swiftly amended or not enforced when those situations arise?

An advocate for the city’s position might say this about that, “Certainly if a law, when enforced in a situation will cause physical harm or death,  it will not be enforced.  However, in the case at hand, it is only a case of might or possibly Harm or death is not a sure thing and so the law must be enforced.” 

They continue, with this enlightened line of thought: “Saying that enforcement is ‘likely to‘ or ‘may‘ result in harm or death is not equivalent to saying it will cause harm or death.  If it is not a sure thing, then where do we draw the line?  We have to enforce it in those situations.”   In other words, despite the sympathy from the Mayor, he sees no choice.

I’m reminded of the story whereby a man made the following assessment about risk:  If you are in a large room (say an auditorium)  by yourself and a bird is loosened into the room with a single poisoned dart that he has been trained to drop randomly in the room would you consent to staying to see where he drops it?  After all, the chances are astronomically low that it will hit you.  In addition you may run in any direction should he fly in your general direction.  You, Mr. Mayor would probably not want to be that man that remains with the bird and dart.  Nor would any on the council.

In the present situation we have the equivalent of more than 300 handicapped homeless men in that room and the weather equivalent of a whole covey of  birds with darts.  No place to hide. No place to run. As a result,  someone among the homeless will surely die!   

The city says this with all sincerity and finalityWe have laws on the books that must be enforced.  “Laws cannot not be enforced” is the way it was actually put by the good and kind Mayor, who has no choice under the law.

However it is our position that those laws, in the present weather situation, where the temperature is plummeting into the teens and men, women, including their children, are hanging onto existence on a once-a-day meal at a generous charity, clinging to a ledge under a bridge or hiding out in the brush or maybe living in a plywood 4×4 shack put up by loving, caring, compassionate people is tantamount to a death sentence.   Not for all, but… somebody among those homeless is going to die!  

Those who leave are going on a forced march “south” or “out of Cobb County” with no source of money, no food in hand, carrying everything on their backs into unknown country where they have no sure place to hide, no warm place to sleep, no friends or support, when temperates are well below freezing by night, cold rain or sleet by day and wind chills that chill to the bone.   The city is ensuring that somebody is going to die!

To be sure, we can’t say who is going to end up in a frozen heap but we can say that somebody is, and it will be totally unnecessary. Certainly negligent, possibly criminal on the part of the city.  There will be others that survive OK, but yet others  that are going to lose toes, fingers, nose, ears or some other form of injury from severe frost bite, or perhaps starve to death for fear of coming out and being arrested.  Perhaps a child.

It appears the city’s idea of solving a crime among the homeless is to relentlessly hunt the criminal down, which is fine, but when in the heat of the hunt, the desperately poor and helpless are found that are not participants in that crime, there must be some form of compassion if a city is to achieve the greatness they aspire to rather than the dubious distinction of being the city that refuses to compromise even to the point of possible great harm of the innocent.  These innocent bystanders to someone else’s crime are being systematically subjected to even more hardship unto possible death or disablement by a city that will not bend to the reality that their actions are likely to be fatal for some of these unfortunates.   Meantime real criminals abound.

But then he or she is only a homeless creature actually.  Not a taxpayer, nor even a voter.  Not even human perhaps.  Certainly not worthy of concern.

So says the City That Doesn’t Care. 

Sorry Al, Sorry Steve, Sorry Dave, Sorry Perry, so sorry to all you others, men, women and children too.   Sorry all you homeless heroic veterans too.  

Some secretary said she saw you across the parking lot and was afraid.  Thus you Al, you who helped keep our country free… I’m sorry but a voter who complains of being somewhat afraid trumps your entire life.

If this is what it means to be known as a conservative stronghold, it is time to loosen up.

Grace, 

Jim Tabb

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