There is a reason most communities until the 1970s kept laws on the books outlawing vagrancy.
Many vagrants are sick (with substance abuse often exacerbating mental illness), some of them may be lazy (a minority), but too many are dangerous.
This is not to say that services to people down on their luck should stop. But it is reasonable to expect:
- A commitment to improve one's life and
- Strong safeguards to protect residents, customers and tourists from the excesses of a relative -- but apparently growing -- few.
The Progs of course, are back to demonizing Fred Mohs. Fred is not the villain, he is the answer. Before Capitol West or Metropolitan Place, Fred Mohs was boosting the downtown. He kept Wisconsin Avenue north of the Square looking very Uptown, a place where people would want to live and meet when East Main/King Street looked like Pottersville sans George Bailey. He deserves his Isthmus cover story on February 22 for caretaking the Kennedy Manor -- even trimming the hedges himself.
Madison historian David Mollenhoff and his wife Leigh praise the Mohs, both Fred and Mary, in the March 20 Isthmus. (Scan to the bottom.) They declare:
When someone writes the history of the Downtown renaissance, no one will loom larger.
No need to outlaw vagrancy
Nowhere do I propose the outlawing of vagrancy itself. Courts have overturned such laws as being overly vague. But we can remove the incentives for self-destructiveness and replace them with incentives to improve behaviors, just as Wisconsin Works replaced AFDC.
Madison's "progressive" elements will argue that crimes are relatively few. But few can deny the quality of life issues.
James Q. Wilson, co-author of the Broken Windows concept, says, "the criminal justice system can make a significant difference. While society is waiting for root causes to change, and while we are building government programs to help them change, we can make our communities safer."
Wilson expounds in a Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute paper called Future of Broken Windows: Policing. He says:
The average person on a typical day is not the victim of a crime. The average person walking to the supermarket or going to the bus stop or passing rowdy teenagers on the street corner is, however, the subject of potential disorder or intimidation. Eliminate the disorder and the intimidation and more decent people use the streets.
... The police, beginning in the middle of the 20th century ... sat in patrol cars, waited for a radio call, and then went out and tried to find, often unsuccessfully, perpetrators of a major burglary, robbery, rape or homicide.
... We wanted to revive the traditional police officer's concern for public order. In the 19th and early parts of the 20th century, public order was the focus of police activity. They were the watchmen on the street corners. They would shout when they saw a fire. They would set up a hullabaloo when they saw a violent offense. They were people there to convey to the community and to those who would disturb the community that the community's preferences came first.
The Full Brenda
"Message to the Poor: Leave Town! Now!"
That is Brenda Konkel's take on these proceedings. That I am against "poor" people. In her mind, and many such minds besotted with the Marxist cant, poor equals criminal. Poor equals hopeless. Poor = victim. Poor = "can't be expected to live by society's norms." That is, of course, a horrible calumny on the poor. Here is the full Brenda (the Prog Dane equivalent to the Full Monty):
It's been a bad week to not be a white middle/upper class privileged male. Somehow, certain high-profile people in the community have decided to launch an attack on people who are not like them.
Scoundrel time! Trot out ye olde identity politics. Play the race card promiscuously. No Brenda, what Blaska's Blog opposes is the perpetuation of policies and behaviors that keep people poor, that keep people dependent on, well, people like you. So, how does one truly help people? I am of the hand up mentality; you, it would appear, remain of the hand out credo. It's everyone's fault -- no wait, it's my fault that people are alcohol addled and dependent on the dole. No wonder they feel self-entitled to chase people across the street. Brenda asks:
Is this the Madison we want to live in?
I am going to ask the woman darting across the street with a cursing madman on her heels the same question, Brenda. "Is this the Madison you want to live in?"
Yes, Brenda, "it will take more than just hope." It will take a clear-eyed, Barack Obama-like approach. Because, if you believe in his message, then you believe in the politics of hope, not the politics of despair. But that is what you are selling, Dear Brenda.
You can read Brenda's hyperbolic comments here.
A Foron counters:
Brenda's post irritated me because she seems to say that if you're upset about the "moocher" homeless, you have no pity or compassion towards poor people in general. I grew up poor and sometimes hungry. I have a lot of compassion for people who are trying to work or who are sick with no health insurance or whatever. But I also know there are some people who simply don't like working. And I don't have a lot of sympathy for some panhandler that screams at me that I'm a fucking c*** because I won't give him any money.
One Mel Klein responds to my first vagrancy post with the take that the vagrancy problem is somehow related to the sub-prime mortgage mess, as if all the mutterers and cursers in the Brittingham Park shelter defaulted on their ARM-mortgaged Fitchburg McMansions and are now busking for rent money:
We're in a recession people. It's going to take years before the paycheck to paycheck population has a stronger foothold in financial security. Until then we might want to hold off on the us vs. them mentality being pushed by Mohs, Pham-Remmele, Blake, et al. [Blake?] ... How are they supposed to work for resources while looking for work/working to save money for first months rent and sec. deposit?
I'll answer the last question: after their day jobs. What is it about the "no free lunch" policy that you don't understand, Mel? You work to get ahead. It is the only way to get ahead.
Finally, a lady by the name of Ali Pelley responds to the second post thusly:
It's quite unusual that I agree with anything on Blaska's Blog; however I also have to applaud Mr. Mohs for at least attempting to change the dialogue when it comes to the homeless in Downtown Madison. As a young professional living Downtown, it's frustrating to witness recent events and the city's response (or lack thereof).
On-line blogging is like nouveau Beaujolais -- best drunk fresh and unpasteurized. But the product improves with decanting.
Previously on Blaska's Blog
- Let's all say it together: Fred Mohs is right about vagrancy.
- The Amazing Mr. Mohs says "enough is enough."
- There's a great forum thread going on in the other room. Hats off to "Bad Gradger" (Grad Badger?), who writes:
You know there's something going on in Madison when the arch-reactionary and the right-wing blowhard make more sense than a leader of the isthmus establishment.
- Right-wing blowhard?