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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Declaring War On The Homeless

Alexander the Great stood before Diogenes and said, "Ask of me any boon you like." To which, Diogenes replied; "Stand out of my light."

"The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law." -Aristotle

A few years ago, cities across the US started to "declare war on homelessness"... little did we know that it was Orwellian doublespeak for declaring war on the homeless by enacting policies that make being homeless akin to a criminal offense. In Seattle this war on the homeless has been ratcheting up lately with homeless encampment sweeps and the outlawing of providing food to the homeless on public lands.

Just last week, in order to bring attention to the sweeps and how detrimental it is to the homeless to be robbed of what little they have left in the process, let alone how the city lacks shelter space for the homeless to go once kicked off public lands, 15 people were arrested in an act of civil disobedience when they set up a tent right outside city hall. The city, homeless advocates state, has been destroying a vast amount of the property they find in encampments instead of storing it and providing a way for the homeless to retrieve what little belongings they might have left.

While many in Seattle may not care much about allowing the city government to seize property without due process when the homeless are concerned, it should give some pause to those who can see where allowing the government to circumvent the constitution when dealing with the most vulnerable in our society might eventually affect them too. After all, if the city can justify simply taking private property from those who have little, what stops them from illegally seizing the property of anyone else for any reason? Indeed, it would seem the only limit to violating a person's constitutional rights in Seattle would be whether the city government thought their victims could afford a lawyer to fight it.

Indeed, this issue was fought out already in court, with the city of Fresno where the city has settled a suit against their raids on homeless camps when the court found that the city's policy of destroying the property they seized amounted to a violation against constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure. The city of Seattle, apparently not learning the lesson, has allegedly destroyed over 21 tons of property in it's raids on homeless encampments so far this year.

There are many conjectures about why maxims of fairness and justice have import to us, but few consider that it is self-interest which ultimately drives the need for us to consider the rights of those most vulnerable in our society as being just as important, if not more so, as our own. For, once you concede the rights of the powerless, little then exists that would not in turn make you just as powerless. Once you permit the state to suggest that some deserve fewer rights than you have, what rights do you really possess inherently as a human in equal standing instead of having to make payments on those rights instead?

If it does not sway your sensibilities to have concern about the rights of those most vulnerable, then consider the hit to your tax pocketbook that the city is risking by carelessly violating the rights of those they consider less worthy of such rights than you. How much are you willing to pay to support a war on the homeless by way of your rights... and by way of your pocket?

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