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Thursday, August 29, 2013

About Moore Square

North Carolina has received bad press in recent months. Now the City of Raleigh has received bad press because its police prevented the distribution of food to impoverished persons at a square in the center of the city. If you're unfamiliar with the story, the Independent Weekly of Durham has a good summary. What does one make of this?
  • Raleigh and Wake County are actually conscientious in assisting the poor -- through a combination of governmental, faith-based, and sectarian initiatives. Don't attack Raleigh, which is predominantly Democratic, simply because NC state government has taken an unfortunate turn under the Republican Party.
  • When Gail first saw downtown Raleigh on our house-hunting trip in 1985, she cried. It was that bad. Downtown Raleigh has come a long way since then. Parts of it are even cool now.
  • But these improvements have been accompanied by a desire among some to push the poor out of downtown. I suppose they think the poor are bad for business. Housing projects have been razed, many points of service for the poor have been moved elsewhere, hardly any toilets are accessible by the poor, etc. Each of these actions, when viewed in isolation, might have seemed like the right thing to do; but taken as a whole, the message to the poor is clearly "Get out!" Thank heavens that other individuals and institutions do not subscribe to that message and continue to serve the poor where the poor are.
  • The city's ordinance seeks to prevent large amounts of litter after distribution of food items in a public park. That's a reasonable objective, and it arose in response to a real problem. Ordinances like this are common across the country.
  • The Raleigh Police Department decided it was time to enforce the ordinance vigorously. I still don't know what prompted the decision, but the implementation was handled badly by RPD. That's embarrassing.
The poor and particularly the homeless have rights. Individuals and institutions who strive to help the poor have rights, too. These rights are not absolute, and their exercise is and should be subject to a reasonable framework of regulations. But the first step, it seems to me, in addressing and resolving this situation is for everyone to agree that we shall not make downtown Raleigh an enclave of financial privilege.