Public Comment

Letter to the Berkeley City Council:
Anti-Sitting Ordinance Would Be a Calamity for Political Freedom

By Jack Jackson, J.D., M.A.
Friday June 08, 2012 - 07:54:00 PM

Honorable City Council Members:

My name is Jack Jackson. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. I also serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the Homeless Action Center. The advocates at the Homeless Action Center can speak to the counterproductive consequences of the proposed "sit/lie" ordinance for the displaced and dispossessed in Berkeley. I write to ask you to consider the broader political implications of this vote.

The proposed ordinance is quite simply a calamity for political freedom. That sounds hyperbolic, but these ordinances strike at the very heart of a democratic culture: economic activity is valued above all political value; the right of assembly is devalued to a hyper~regulated nothing; the promise of equal protection is made a mockery; and the police are, yet again, empowered and deployed against fundamentally non~criminal behavior. 

The most distressing quality of these ordinances is the open secret at the heart of them: they will not be applied equally. It is well understood that the acts that are prohibited will be applied selectively. Only those who do not pass as affluent shoppers will be cited. Others will not. Accepting inequality as the spirit of the law abandons the underlying principles and promises of our laws as embedded in the 14th Amendment. Of course, it might be possible to draft a law that circumvents that promise. The courts might even wink and nod at the surface level formalisms of the ordinance. But it is my sincere hope that you, by contrast, will value the promise of equal protection of the law enough to vote "no" on June 12th. 

We need not choose between supporting local merchants and protecting political freedom. We can do both. I worry that a ballot initiative will only sacrifice the latter and offer absolutely nothing to the former. Surely we can find solutions that amount to something better than that.