October 3rd, 2013
Lakisha Briggs was a victim of domestic abuse, having been beaten unconscious by her boyfriend. When a neighbour called the cops, the boyfriend went to prison for assault. And then the police served notic to her landlord to evict her and her 3-year old son or lose his rental licence. The reason? She’d made three 911 calls in four months and a local Norristown, Pa. police ordinance calls for tenants who do this to be evicted.
This turns out not to be an isolated case. A new study by Matthew Desmond and Nicol Valdez
shows the impact of this sort of socalled third party policing on already vulnerable people (PDF):
Recent decades have witnessed a double movement within the field of crime control characterized by the prison boom and intensive policing, on the one hand, and widespread implementation of new approaches that assign policing responsibilities to non-police actors, on the other. The latter development has been accomplished by expansion of thirdparty policing policies; nuisance property ordinances, which sanction landlords for their tenants’ behavior, are among the most popular. This study, an analysis of every nuisance citation distributed in Milwaukee over a two-year period, is among the first to evaluate empirically the impact of coercive third-party policing on the urban poor. Properties in black neighborhoods disproportionately received citations, and those located in more integrated black neighborhoods had the highest likelihood of being deemed nuisances. Nearly a third of all citations were generated by domestic violence; most property owners abated this “nuisance” by evicting battered women. Landlords also took steps to discourage tenants from calling 911; overrepresented among callers, women were disproportionately affected by these measures. By looking beyond traditional policing, this study reveals previously unforeseen consequences of new crime control strategies for women from inner-city neighborhoods.
Currently the ACLU is suing Norristown over this ordinance, arguing that:
These laws violate tenants’ First Amendment right to petition their government, which includes the right to contact law enforcement. They also violate the federal Violence Against Women Act, which protects many domestic violence victims from eviction based on the crimes committed against them, and the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex.
While Norristown officials argue that “the purpose of the disorderly behavior ordinance is to promote peaceful neighborhoods and discourage frivolous calls to the police.”
Class war by any other name, this is a good example of how the structural inequality in American society and how this is translated in local politics is far more important to the day to day life of a great many working class people, than whatever happens in Washington. These sort of laws don’t even pretend to distinguish between criminals and victims anymore, just recognises nuisances.