By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Our good friends in the East Syracuse Village Government have come up with the perfect solution to all that ails the community. First, they advocate the mandatory eviction of tenants when police respond to three incidents in one year’s time. Second, the Village wants to make criminals out of teenagers by incarcerating 16 and 17 year olds out after “curfew”. Relying on a law used in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, residents of East Syracuse are now going to be under the watchful eye of the police and code enforcement. “Welcome to East Syracuse: Behave or Leave” is the new Village motto.
Of real interest is that the eviction law ONLY applies to tenants of rental properties. Homeowners are not included. Once police (and not a court) determine a tenant or his guest violated the law, the owner is notified and after three notices, the tenants are mandatorily evicted. There is no challenge.
Similarly, no such rule applies to the East Syracuse landed gentry who reside in their own owned dwellings and who may bring police on a daily basis. Apartment dwellers tend to be less wealthy and established than their homeowning counterparts and are much more victimized by this cruel law.
The curfew law and tenant eviction law evinces a handful of lame duck legislators looking to insert themselves into the role of super-parent over the rest of us. Like addicts for their drugs, the East Syracuse government is looking into creating more rules, more laws, and more restrictions on freedom.
One does not have to look far into the past to see the results of the City of Syracuse’s last great experiment to “clean the streets” of children. The Common Council passed into law an ordinance banning “loitering”. What that did was give police the right to approach any gathering of people and start questioning, searching, and arresting. The ordinance was used by police to harass, intimidate, and ruin the lives of a statistically disproportionate number of young black males in the community. Now, East Syracuse wants to join the ranks of those aching to provide police yet another reason to approach, question, and ‘be in the face of’ children.
We live in a free country. As a citizen, a voter, a taxpayer, a parent, and a resident of the community, it is my choice and my discretion until what time my children may be outside and be in public. If, in my mind, my child has established responsibility and trustworthiness to my satisfaction, then I have no problem with granting her greater freedoms. I am not raising a child; I am training an adult. The last thing I want is for a police officer to interpose themselves in my relationship with my child as though the police officer is capable of judging the maturity of my child.
I fear that the proposed Curfew Ordinance will have a disproportionate impact upon the poor community. Unlike the affluent with homes, yards, basements, garages and other places children can gather and huddle away from view in the streets, the poor do not enjoy these luxuries. Generally, they are in small apartments, overcrowded, lack gameboys and computers, and have no place to gather and ‘hang’. In public housing, the situation is even worse, where the residents live in concrete blocks stacked on top of each other. The children have nowhere to be themselves and be with their friends but outside. With a curfew in place, especially on weekends, holidays, and summer vacation, it will be the poor who will endure this new ‘clean streets’ offensive. Affluent children have where to hide. Poor children are in the cross hairs.
Being affluent and in positions of power, I sincerely doubt any of these East Syracuse lawmakers has the life experience and understanding of the community to enable them to make reasoned decisions about a curfew or tenant evictions. In all likelihood, they are without a clue about the relations between the poor people in the community and the police.
Instead of spending money to open facilities and provide safe places for children to be off the streets, it seems the preference is to spend the money on police and the criminal justice system. Violators will be cited, court appearances required, judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers paid. Since children are not likely to be able to afford counsel, taxpayers are going to suffer the cost. Same thing with low income tenants; taxpayers will pay the bills. What will be the possible outcomes of these criminal charges or an eviction? Are we going to have our children cleaning streets? Are we going to imprison our children at home with mandatory court-ordered curfews? Shall we fine them or imprison them? Where will the suddenly homeless go? Is East Syracuse going to build a homeless shelter? What about holidays or winter evictions – will the Village Code Enforcer throw families out into the cold and snow? This is not a legacy that we should leave for future generations.
Every child you see today is going to be an adult tomorrow. They are going to be voters and employers and parents. Most young adults starting today in apartments will be the ones deciding our social security and which nursing homes will house us. I believe the important lesson we all need to learn is compassion by and for the community, individuality and responsibility, and trust and respect for police and the system. Putting children in conflict with police will do nothing to advance these goals and could result in another generation of citizens who distrust the system and lack a connection to their community. Putting families into the streets for actions of others just because they are renters defies human morality.
The proposed ordinance is a bad idea. It is born in arrogance and snobbery of the affluent that do not want to see the faces of tomorrow on the streets today. The proposal may be neutral on its face, but the outcome will be a discriminatory impact against the weakest elements of society. The proof is in our history.