"We really, really need this law,” states the literature supporting Mayor Tom Bates’ proposed anti-sitting law. “But we’re not going to use it for six months and even then hardly ever.”
Sound peculiar? It should. Why shouldn’t the city use a law it claims to need so badly? Why all the backtracking and double-speak?
If you know why, then you probably know that nationwide there’s a move to recognize the cost of the peculiar but politically popular temptation to fine poor people for having no money.
It can tempt even the liberal “progressive” politicians we vote for locally. It certainly can tempt the shopper or voter tired of being panhandled by the same fellow on the same street corner.
But the cost is brutal. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of court and medical costs follow in the wake of such laws, which rarely manifest in change for either the individual or the community. Jobs, housing, medical care, and recovery services don’t bloom in the wake of tickets which begin as a fine considered minor by some of us, but which turn into bench warrants and huge cumulative fines for people on the streets if they miss an appointment, a court date, or simply can’t pay.
A creative, healthy community would never take this road. A worn-out, desperate, easily manipulated community would, and often does.
But Seattle’s anti-sitting law didn’t solve Seattle’s business or homeless problems. Neither did Santa Cruz’s anti-sitting law. Neither did San Francisco’s, as the City Fellows’ Report earlier this year makes clear.
If our city leaders feel worn-out, desperate, and begin to stoop to manipulative tactics, there’s a better course for us as a community than voting to criminalize the peaceful act of sitting. Let’s replace them with a more clear-headed, fair-minded crew.
This community has at least one great wealth; a surplus of hard-working people whose interest in and sense of duty toward our community is inspiring. Vote against targeting the poor, and vote for leadership able to recognize that serious problems deserve serious solutions.