Where Standing Still and Minding Your Own Business is a Crime

By ADAM RITSCHER

I keep imagining a sign. It’s big and green, with white lettering. It hangs over the highway, and it looks like this:

Or maybe it isn’t over the highway-it could be hanging off the side of city hall with bright flashing Las Vegas lights. “Seven hundred dollars,” you’d think to yourself, staring at its bright red fluorescence.

You won’t ever see that sign, though.

Duluth has a new anti-loitering ordinance. Businesses apply to have “pedestrian-transit zones” put outside of their locations by making a $100 deposit. If the City Council says it’s alright, those zones can be put on any sidewalk, path, skywalk, way, trail, parkway, or other city property.

What do pedestrian-transit zones do? The city tells us that they make life convenient. Hereís how: despite a few technicalities (such as law enforcement), the only allowed behavior in a pedestrian-transit zone is, ìtraveling from one point to another, as evidenced by constant movement through the zone to a point or points outside the zone.î They even specify that “frequent, repetitive movement within the zone, back and forth, is not allowed.”

Get caught with your sneakers still, and it could be a $700 hole in your pocket.

For many people, the immediate reaction is, “Can they do that?” But we’ll leave constitutional semantics to the lawyers.

The real question is, “Why would they do that?” The ordinance’s statement of purpose emphasizes convenience and safety. What that really means is that our beloved downtown area is inhabited by homeless people, drunken people, panhandlers, and young people.

Yeah, it’s true: we’ve got poor people, and we’ve got dirty people, and we’ve got kids with blue hair. What this ordinance dares to do, though, is wipe them off the face of our city. It will fail, of course; even if a homeless man doesn’t ask you for 50 cents, he’s still here, he’s still a member of this community, and he’s still standing alone somewhere-cold and hungry.

But it will succeed in vanquishing truth and honesty in our city. It will desecrate our civil liberties in the name of a pretty image-in the name of our tourist economy; in the name of money. Most of all it will cover up the truth. It will feed us a lie, a false image of this city-one that is pampered and sterile.

And it will divide us.

Homelessness, impoverished youth, public acts of indecency, and panhandling-these things are not the problem, they are the result of the problem. They are simply the symptoms of a disease, and not the disease itself.

What is the disease? The disease is a lack of compassion-understanding for each other. The disease is a lack of opportunity-poverty and jobs that hardly pay (ones which could be performed as close as Minneapolis for sometimes double the wage). The disease is an attitude of fear, which separates us neatly into labeled subgroups. The disease is a lack of community.

The city has taken to covering up Duluth’s problems. This ordinance is not a solution, it is a band-aid for a decadent community. This ordinance is a futile lie.

And it’s a lie that we will not stand for. The outrage incurred by this ordinance has birthed a resistance movement. It’s called the Coalition for the Freedom to Stand Still, because we believe that everyone has that right, and we refuse to give that right away in the name of this tourist economy. These are our goals:

(1) We are committed to the identification and enactment of tangible solutions to the real problems of Duluth. We refuse to cover them up and look the other way as the city has done.

(2) We are committed to the elimination of the new anti-loitering ordinance. It is an injustice that we will not stand for.

(3) We are committed to encouraging responsible, compassionate behavior from all members of the community.