Monday, December 05, 2005

Filling our (news) hole.

Not much in the news today, but we will highlight two things.  Both are issues we’ve mostly tried to stay out of thus far, but hey, it’s a slow news day, and we’ve got to fill our (news) hole with something.

Day Laborers in the OC

First off, you’ve got the ABH editorial board sounding off on the OC’s mass arrest of some 30-odd Hispanic day laborers in the Home Depot parking lot last week.  The ABH supports the Sheriff’s Department’s actions, but that’s not too surprising.  After all, as Jason Winders said a few weeks ago, “undocumented Hispanics are the new black.”

What might surprise you is that your editors here agree as well.  

Now, those who read AthPo regularly might think that the crack editorial staff, raging liberals that we are, stand ready to spring to the defense of any group that gets picked on, regardless of how silly the claim.  Not so.

You see, we’re ok with day laborers hanging out waiting for work.  We’re even ok with them doing so at Home Depot or Lowe’s.  We’re happy that they’re being proactive and looking for work.  But there’s a certain give and take involved in situations like this.  Oconee County and the businesses nearby did the right thing; they built a shelter and put out tables and facilities.  The day laborers didn’t hold up their end of the de facto bargain.  They harassed Home Depot’s customers, and interfered with Home Depot’s business, despite having perfectly acceptable (better than most counties or businesses would willingly provide) accommodations nearby.  

To be honest with you, we’d probably be singing a different tune if the county and the nearby businesses hadn’t actually tried to make the wait for work easier.  But it is what it is, and while we believe in giving everyone who deserves one a leg up, we also believe that if you’re getting a hand, you should show your gratitude by following the rules too.

One other point about the ABH editorial.  We couldn’t agree more strongly with this statement: “it might be time for local Hispanic advocacy organizations to step in and offer their help.”

Intelligent Design, Not so Intelligent Letter

Another issue we’ve tried to steer away from lately is the whole intelligent design/creationism/evolutionism debate.  It’s pretty tied up with your personal religious beliefs, and to be honest, no one knows the answers.  Not James Dobson, not the Preznit, and not the guy in the lab coat with the test tubes and the Darwin-esque fish with legs tattoo.  Heck, there’s disagreement amongst your crack editorial staff about the whole thing.  

(For what it’s worth, we would refer you to an interesting sermon given at Athens’ own First United Methodist Church recently, wherein it was postulated that creationism and evolution can live in harmony, because science seeks to answer the question of how we got here, while religion seeks to answer why we’re here.  But we digress.)

We will say this.  If you’re going to stump for one position or the other, at least get your facts straight.  Case in point, today’s letter from a proponent of the intelligent design theory, who unfortunately seems to feel he has to stoop to distortion and hyperbole to bolster his side.

Sez our writer: “…a book about how Galapagos finch beaks become enlarged or shrink when the seasons are dry or wet proves that rocks turned into people.” [emphasis added]  Hmmm.  As far as we know, there’s no credible evolutionary theory that says that rocks had anything to do with humankind other than (a) providing a useful means for bashing critters over the head in the Stone Age, and (b) being a useful answer to the fill-in-the-blank question: “Jessica Simpson is as dumb as a _______.”  

However, we will give the letter writer some cred for the statement, “I certainly don't want creationism taught in our schools, when churches can't even agree on what happened or when.”

Anyway, not to start a whole spiritual debate here.  But we would suggest that before writing in on an issue that is this important, kill the exaggeration and be an honest and effective advocate for your side.  Leave the rhetoric for the pols.



Anonymous said...

Everyone is welcome to debate this topic in our free society but, before people start jumping in, they should at least understand that the Theory of Evolution and Darwin's work does NOT address the origins of life. That is a completely different area of scientific study - it's call Abiogenesis and there are some competing theories and lots of research going on in that field, too.

Evolution = how life changes
Abiogenesis = how life got started

If we're going to have a meaningful debate, let's begin by understanding just what it is that we're debating.

Adrian said...

Publius, I want you to think about the loitering arrests for a minute. Sure, there was some misbehavior and a lack of cooperation. If all those arrested were guilty, then fine. But the news story characterized this as a "bust" of 31 people being arrested at once. Now what do you think happens when 14 police vehicles converge on 31 people? There is going to be confusion.

The story said: "The employee said that two Hispanic men who happened to be walking across Epps Bridge Road to a convenience store near the Home Depot were also caught up in the loitering bust."

So we have a claim that innocent people were arrested, people that were obviously not loitering if they were just crossing. If that is the case, those are not fair arrests. That is overzealous law enforcement. To pick up people because they were Hispanic and in the vicinity is a violation of civil liberties, and it is also racist. (I do say "IF THAT IS THE CASE," referring to considering whether what the quote said is true. Do not dare attribute judgments to me that I have not made. This is a discussion with conditional statements and questions. I did not say absolutely that this sweep was a racist action. I said that IF people were arrested because they were Hispanic and in the vicinity, THEN the arrests were racist. We're basing this discussion on a news report -- it could have been an arrest of Girl Scouts at Lowe's for all we know. I don't believe everything I read in the newspaper.)

It is also not going to be a good use of judicial resources. Unless the prosecutors and the judge involved are as overzealous as the deputies may be, then some of the charges can't stand. Georgia's loitering statute says:

"Unless flight by the person or other circumstances make it impracticable, a law enforcement officer shall, prior to any arrest for an offense under this Code section, afford the person an opportunity to dispel any alarm or immediate concern which would otherwise be warranted by requesting the person to identify himself and explain his presence and conduct. No person shall be convicted of an offense under this Code section if the law enforcement officer failed to comply with the foregoing procedure or if it appears at trial that the explanation given by the person was true and would have dispelled the alarm or immediate concern." O.C.G.A. §16-11-36 (2004).

With a "bust" sort of environment, were the men crossing the street questioned about what they were up to? Were others in the parking lot? Then how are their charges going to hold up, unless they ran away? (Running away is a reason for alarm, according to the statute.)

Think a little more -- is this whole deal even fair? What is wrong with standing in a parking lot? The behavior of some is being attributed to others because of their race and class.

Publius said...

Fair points to be sure, and there's plenty of room for discussion.

"Do not dare attribute judgments to me that I have not made."

Wasn't aware that I had.

"What is wrong with standing in a parking lot?"

That's a grey area; is there anything wrong with "standing in a parking lot?" Unclear, but I guess that's why we have loitering statutes. Now, standing in a parking lot, impeding commerce, and harrassing customers, as the newspaper and (I would assume) the OCSD alleges is wrong.

Are the arrests valid? That's why we have DA's and defense lawyers, judges and juries, and (don't hang your hat on this one kids) presumably some sort of internal discipline in law enforcement.

Fishplate said...

Yes, there is something wrong with standing in a parking lot if you have been repeatedly asked to leave, and you continue to return.

Perhaps the busts were for Trespass and not Loitering?

crewzin777 said...

Adrian is 100% right in his analysis. The state loitering statute does not allow for a mass arrest as described in the news articles. If that is the statute the Oconee Sheriff is travelling under then this is indeed a huge waste of taxpayer's money. That's the kind of case that should never make it to a prosecutor/judge/defense attorney.

However, I've heard that these individuals were arrested under the Oconee loitering ordinance. I've never had occasion to read the ordinance so I don't know if it tracks the language of the state statute or not. Athens had a loitering ordinance that deviated from the state statute and it was struck down (in part) as being unconstitutional.

And that should answer fishplate's question. These were definitely not arrests for criminal trespass. If Home Depot wants to pursue criminal trespass charges than they merely have to bar the individual and his coninued presence from that point on would constitue criminal trespass. Since it's Home Depot's property they have the authority to bar anybody for pretty much any reason they want to.

Aside from the above comments, my problem with the support for the mass bust is that they treat these people as if they have some kind of collective consciousness. Were any one of these 31 individuals harassing anyone on the day in question? Were any one of these 31 people asked to move on that particular day? These 31 people are somehow on notice for the alleged harassment that has been going on in the area for months? These 31 people seem to be paying the price for things that other people, perhaps of a similar race/ethnicity, (may have) committed in the past.

Here's a novel idea. Investigate the complaints as they come in and arrest the person who actually committed the crime instead of taking it out on similarly hued people days/weeks/months from the date of the incident.

Publius said...

For what it's worth, Adrian posts the Oconee County Loitering Statute in a very nice in-depth analysis on his blog.

Adrian said...

I'm going to seriously backpedal on my comments above now that I have gone out to get the news my own (darn) self that the ABH doesn't bother printing.

I'm still not comfortable with the mass arrest because investigating individual complaints and making individual trespassing arrests would be better, but I'm no longer convinced that the arrests should be considered objectionable from a moral or constitutional perspective. However, the deputies didn't just sweep in like the NYPD on a crowd of protesters. They staked out the parking lot first to observe the individuals standing there, and then talked to each one before arresting him. (I just edited my story to add a sentence about the stake-out.)

Yes, I agree there is something wrong with standing in a parking lot if you've been asked not to continuously stand there. I also agree with the sheriff that something had to be done. I was worried that they just swooped in and instantly arrested men who happened to be standing at the time, but this is probably not what happened.

So to be clear, I'm down off my indignant high horse. Sorry about that. It is amazing what you can learn outside of one news report. It is amazing how limited that one report can be in the details that characterize the story.

BTW, Publius, I wasn't addressing to you my request about not attributing judgments to me. I was addressing it at large to stave off potential flamers.