Last night the Board of Park Commissioners meeting was all about odor.
If you haven't been down to State Street recently, you might not know that Lisa Link Peace Park, the small scrap of green space between the Subway and Princess of India Imports, is undergoing a major facelift.
The renovation includes the addition of a large visitor's center, and it's the rules of conduct for entering and using that building that are currently coming under scrutiny. The committee was supposed to vote on their adoption at the meeting but instead opted to delay the final decision until September.
What's so controversial about a code of conduct?
It all goes back to the same battle that's been fought over the park for years regarding its popularity with the local homeless population. Since renovations were first discussed last year people have been raising concerns over how said plans might push the homeless out of the area entirely. The decision to include an ATM on the site, for instance, means that no panhandling can take place within a certain radius. The park has been one of the few places on State where panhandling was allowed.
But proponents of the new park swore up and down that their intent was not to push out the homeless. The new code of conduct, however, seems designed very specifically to provide multiple reasons to kick the indigent off the premises.
Take a look. In addition to obvious rules (and some would say already existent because of city law) regarding straight-up crime, the list includes more than a few items that can only have been designed to keep out the homeless population in particular:
- Sleeping, napping or dozing in or on Visitor Center premises.
- Entering or remaining upon Visitor Center premises with a bodily hygiene so offensive that it constitutes a nuisance to others.
- Bringing in more than 2 bags, or any bag that exceeds 26"x14"x14" in dimension, without prior approval of the Parks Superintendent or Designee.
- Improperly using Visitor Center restrooms or facilities for purposes such as bathing, shaving or changing clothes.
The funny thing is, these points are nebulous enough that they could feasibly be used to prevent cyclists from changing in the bathrooms, or people wearing particularly noticeable perfume from walking in, or serious shoppers from using the facilities. But I don't think it's a stretch assume that they won't be used in that manner, but rather saved specifically for times when a homeless person wanders in.
It was the point about bodily odor that seemed to rile people the most at the meeting, though. I think it's representative of the larger problem with the code. While I'm no fan of being in a confined space with someone who stinks to high heaven, I also think the rule as currently written allows for too much personal interpretation on the part of the person enforcing it.
There's simply too much room for undue discrimination.
I hope the time between now and September is used to go over the rules reconsidering some outright, and redoing others to be more specific.
Because simply finding ways to push the homeless out of an area does nothing but move any issues to another spot. It does nothing to address the core problem, and too much to contribute to further bias against and harassment of people who, despite their current position in life, still have rights.
The issue that won't go away
There are a couple of worthwhile articles recently published that deal with the issue of our jails reporting undocumented workers to ICE. Both the Capital Times and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have tackled the topic and the pieces are well worth a read. I've addressed the subject many times before and I stand by my position that we should be looking at a different, less inhumane way of dealing with this complicated issue.
It's sad, but I'm not surprised to see this same problem cropping up in the Milwaukee area, too.
And speaking of how we handle immigration and undocumented workers, I was glad to read that Gov. Doyle shot down Attorney General JB Van Hollen's most recent political stunt. Van Hollen had wanted to "file a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against Arizona over its new immigration law."
This isn't the first time Van Hollen has used his ostensibly neutral position to pull decidedly partisan moves. He tried to sue the federal government over the health care overhaul (and was shot down). He refused to defend the state's domestic partnership registry when it was created.
Frankly, it's high time we booted this guy out of office. Come November there are other, qualified choices for Attorney General and I sincerely hope we elect someone who'll spend more time being a fair arbiter of the law and less time posturing for their political allies.