Monday, August 16, 2010

Alert! Marauders pillaging Prescott businesses!

Today the unnamed Courier editor tells us the fence gate into Granite Creek Park is controversial because merchants say "vagrants travel to and from the park through that path and pillage their stores and loiter on the shopping center's sidewalks."

"Pillage"? Is the editor off his meds, or is looting going on at the Depot Marketplace, and somehow I missed it?

Okay, let's say the editor just wanted a more colorful word than "shoplifting," and just hasn't enough respect for words to care what they mean, rather than that he wants to exaggerate the scale of the problem and scare his readers with images of hordes of Huns tearing up the produce section at Albertson's. Let's move on to the logic here.

Say you're homeless, broke, dry and hanging out in the park one day, and you feel the urge for a hair of the dog. You know there's lightly guarded likker on the shelves at Walgreens next door. You head in that direction, but there's a locked gate. What do you do?

My guess is that you'll walk a couple blocks around the fence, drop into Walgreens and pocket a quick pint anyway, slipping out past the overburdened and none-too-nimble staff. And since the gate is locked, you'll go around the back to the loading dock area to quaff your prize before stumbling back around the fence to the public jons.

What world does the editor inhabit, wherin a chain-link gate is going to make any substantial difference to someone dealing daily with the grinding, ordinary challenges of homelessness?

It's perfectly clear that this isn't about loitering or pillaging, this is about keeping unsightly people away from Everyone's Hometown Shopping Center (and in the park instead, by the way). We don't care who they are, how they got there or where else they might go, we just want them gone. We know intellectually that there are problems for people in the real world, we just don't want to see the real world every day. That would be "shoving it in our faces," where we might have to think about it. Let it be someone else's problem.

The drag is that harassing homeless people enough to move them elsewhere doesn't work. They don't find out by broadcast text message that Granite Creek Park is off limits. They don't use hobo sign anymore. They just show up. And we run them off again, and they show up again.

If the problem is really so large, maybe the Council ought to ask whether the downtown businesses would like to contribute to funding and staffing a shelter where most of these "vagrants," as the editor characterizes them so charitably, can find safety and some basic resources for getting off the street. How about some put-up-or-shut-up action, hm? How about working to help solve a problem? And where's the editor been on a problem that people have been moaning about ineffectually for decades?

The editor mentions "three publics" toward the end, missing an important one: the people who use the park as a thoroughfare and would like to shop in the Marketplace or elsewhere downtown. See, the editor can't imagine any respectable person traveling our city without a car.


coyoteradiotheater said...

This is the sentence in the original piece that made me stop in amazement:

"It's time to put together a concerted coalition of resources to humanely clear the park of the offending population."

This statement is made as if it is a foregone conclusion that there are people who have no right to be in the public space of Prescott and that removing them - perhaps with a gentle tag and release program - will solve the problem that sometimes the American Dream doesn't work A-OK.

The editor has not proved that penalizing non motorized citizens will solve the issue of theft in understaffed stores. He has not proved that the parks only belong to people who look like him.

If you think this is a problem easily solved, talk to the parents in Prescott who scan the park when they go there, looking for someone they're still related to even now.

And finally, parks, like any public art, are a form of public discourse - free speech with sod (comes from the Old English tradition of Commons). If the Editor will not defend public discourse in our parks, how long will he defend it in his own pages?

Steven Ayres said...

That's brilliant, Andy.