Civil Liberties, Writ Small (No Spitting!)

Hey folks, why not come on up to Burlington this summer?  We’ve got a lovely waterfront, one festival every other weekend and heck, we do the little things well, things you might not notice, but enhance your tourism experience all the same.

For example, our collection of quaint street people – vagrants and vagabonds, wanderers, hobos, travelers, gutterpunks, junkies, shit birds and dirtbags – are cleaner and better behaved than anywhere else in New England.

Thanks to a murky new ordinance – the legal analysis of which is being kept secret, but which has been called unconstitutional on several grounds by a former city attorney – Burlington can literally throw the bums out.

No, not the miscreant politicians that phrase normally refers to, but ne’er-do-wells and idlers who bother tourists along Church Street, our lovely pedestrian shopping venue.  Well, sure, why not?  They’re not all picturesque.  If they don’t mind themselves, if they get crossways with the cops too often, they’re banned from Church Street for a year. Sent into exile.  They can appeal this – to a committee of merchants, also know as The People Who Called the Cops in the First Place.  Good luck with “due process.”

It IS legal to be naked on Church Street.  That’s picturesque.  You can’t GET naked on Church Street or be naked and inebriated (inebriation is also covered by the above-mentioned unconstitutional law with the secret legal analysis) but it’s legal to BE naked on Church Street.  (We also have the lowest rate of gonorrhea in the nation!)

Folks, we’re so orderly we could be a Canadian province.  We’d likely beat Quebec in the VD category.  Smoking too.  A few years ago the city council tried to pass an ordinance to prohibit smoking on Church Street, unless you were sitting behind the rope with a cup of coffee you’d purchased from a merchant, setting up a lovely two-tiered caste system to be “selectively enforced” according to one city councilor.  “Selective enforcement” in this case means tourists from Quebec can smoke wherever they want, ‘cause there ain’t no stopping ‘em.  (Probably comes out even, since displaying Quebecois plates on your car is about the only way to get a speeding ticket out on the interstate.)

Twenty-five years ago, a local restaurateur advocated buying homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town.  The “westward ho!” movement, as it was known, was an early attempt to pretty up our street people, but now rather than shipping them off to another town, we just ban them from the areas where the vacationers might see them.

So, as the Supreme Court’s DNA ruling has thrown the door open to cops swabbing not just convicted criminals, but everyone arrested, some just on suspicion of minor infractions, the Times is reporting that, what the hell, we may well as throw victims’ DNA into the database too and the NSA is scooping up all our phone and Internet records should we be surprised crunchy, cutesy cities like Burlington are passing secret laws that banish people for being unappealing?

© Mark Floegel 2013

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