Tuesday, September 29

It's Not About You

Tonight the Iowa City City Council will go through a second reading of the curfew and loitering ordinances. While a case can be made for any law that is put on the books, the question has always got to be "who does it help, who does it hurt?"

The minor curfew ordinance helps police officers round up youth who are out after the appointed hour so that they may prevent them from getting into worse trouble. The curfew ordinance helps homeowners feel like their property is more secure.

The curfew ordinance hurts youth who do not have support systems at home or are being abused. It hurts kids who hang out with their friends doing innocent kid stuff or serious soul-seeking. It hurts parents who now have yet one more concern about what their kids are doing. It hurts relationships between adults and kids--including police officers and potential crime victims by making it less likely that kids will seek out the police for help.

The loitering ordinance helps police round up youth and adults who are out en masse and may be threatening to others. The loitering ordinance allows business owners and homeowners to report congregation that interferes with commerce or quality of life.

The loitering ordinance hurts all youth and adults who are chatting with their friends on a sidewalk, hanging out at a bus stop or storefront who are perceived to be interfering with others. The loitering ordinance hurts police officers because they have to judge, rather than enforce a law that is vague. It hurts people of who are likely to have their motives questioned.

For laws to really have an impact, it is important that they help more than they hurt. The underlying precept that seems to be guiding this set of ordinances is who is helped as opposed to what is fair for all. The "who" in this case are people who refuse to see their responsibility in the larger inequity drama that they are playing into.

As one of the city council members said last week about the curfew to a group of high school students who spoke in defense of their rights, "It is not about you." Nonetheless, it is about "somebody," otherwise what are these laws even being discussed?

Typically bad laws hurt those who are seen as a threat by others whether the threat is real or not. Bad laws can be prevented by addressing what is "threatening." Unfortunately, the majority of the city council does not seem to be motivated to walk the harder road.

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