Wrong Arm of the Law

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

The stench on the streets of Syracuse is not coming from those poor unwashed souls who lack any means of self-support other than to beg for pennies from passers-by. Instead, the true affront comes from a new policy by Syracuse Police who are going to start issuing citations to the homeless and dragging them before the courts. Plainly put, the new policy “stinks”. It is not the domain of police to resolve a social services issue any more than it is a police issue to deal with a health and welfare issue. The wrong arm of the law is being used against the homeless.

What is it about Syracuse’s most destitute that requires involvement with the criminal justice system? Wherein is the benefit to the individual or to the community at large when police start making poverty and homelessness a criminal act? My personal feeling is that someone in City government is offended and suffers guilt whenever they come into contact with a person begging for change. That “someone” has motivated Syracuse Police into targeting the homeless for arrest.

Once before Syracuse tried to sweep clean the homeless from its streets with the attempted passage of an “aggressive panhandling” law. Recall too that one Christmas day, police entered onto State land and tore town a tent city.

Our community’s homeless problem is not a police problem. It is our collective failure as a society to provide for even its weakest elements. Homeless people should not be dragged in front of judges. Instead, they should be provided shelter and food and a hot shower.

It is sad that homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and mental illness plague the city in such large numbers. Maybe instead of arresting the homeless or offering up a few dollars at holiday time, citizens actually worked face to face with some of these folks, or fed them, or housed them, or trained them. Don’t chase them away. Imprisoning them is not the answer. Wasting more valuable police and judicial resources will not cure the problem. Hiding the ugliness from our eyes does not mean the cancer is not there eating away at our collective soul. Maybe if we

resolved the root issues, the City might be able to direct valuable and limited police resources to handle real crime.

In my very humble opinion, this new attitude and proposed new policy of aggressive enforcement is offensive and contrary to strongly held principles of this nation and of most of the religions worshipped by its citizens.

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