Moral Crimes

Posted 2 years ago

For all these years, I have lived in a sea of dealers, addicts, and encampments. In addition to the walking target cut by the vertically challenged, this proximity may be an influence on my semi-annual mugging. Despite this, it pains me to see, though how I loathe the infinite quantity of dealers who seemingly outnumber the addicts. This is a market I simply do not understand. While a police officer on foot — critically: on foot — clears the scene, it only temporarily relocates this problem. While I can observe dealers and their operations, be it from the street or my window, to a point of collecting enough evidence for arrests that, if having a badge, would lead the chief to fire me for being too exceptional, I know this, too, will not solve the problem. While I am all for a crackdown on dealers, grinding the courts to a halt by arresting addicts and homeless is immoral anyway, helping to further ruin lives. Rather, I am attracted to the idea of a Sanctuary City for moral crimes. By that I mean, rather than arrest addicts, homeless, sex workers, and the like, to instead detain, treat, and offer ways out. As it is, arresting addicts leads to state charges, jail, ciminal records, and possibly prison. These records ensure few employment opportunities while shutting off many social services. Best then, perhaps, to offer care for those suffering mental illness, shelter for those displaced, and treatment for those addicted? When there is a will there is a way, and I like to believe we can do this.

I do not come at this issue purely as an observer. Years ago, I was once among the homeless. I recognize there are those homeless as a lifestyle choice. Yet this is learned over time, and while there may be little we can do inspiring change from those long committed, we must work to prevent others from growing into that choice. I too spent intellectual energy re-evaluating my needs into wants, until left with things like air and food. It is curiously liberating in its own way. But in the early days of reading about all the wonderful "affordable" units City Hall was helping be built, the "generous" services available to me, at my most defeated, was a one-week stay at the worst slum I have ever set foot in, beating any such place I ever heard or read about... and a handful of MUNI tokens. I stayed only one night there, and regret saying I cannot be grateful to City taxpayers for paying that atrocious slumlord on my behalf. I then spent a single night in a shelter, leading to the loss of every possession but the clothes I wore. Our City did not help transition me in any way, and a week in a slum is hardly sufficient help toward getting ones feet under them. The sensible solution then was spending a few months on the street and saving money until I was able to get a place. I totally and comprehensively understand any resistance to getting help from the City. Having a mugshot and being fingerprinted further alienated me from City services, as it felt poverty was a criminal act. I was very lucky to avoid arrest for vagrancy, and holding three jobs ensured regular time off the street. There is no City effort I can point to as a success. While I concede it has been many years, and perhaps much has changed, if a mugshot and fingerprints are still required to unlock City services, then it is still a crime to be poor. Furthermore, from experience lived, a public banking option would no doubt have opened opportunities for getting me off the street sooner, while saving a lot from check-cashing vultures. That said, while personal experiences are fine places to develop hypotheses, they terrible places to test them. I hope to engage stakeholders and experts, looking for ways to de-criminalize poverty and moral acts motivated by such desperation, while more substantively helping those in need.

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