The City of Boulder has a law requiring everyone to shovel the snow on the sidewalk in front of their house, enforced by the city police with an escalating series of fines. It recently came up in the news, here is my response:
I do not believe this is an appropriate use of police or state violence. Such laws and enforcement activities underlie the problems revealed in the Ferguson protests. This can easily be assertained by a brief visit to the Boulder County jail, which is just as overcrowded with minorities and mentally ill as any jail in the nation. At the very least snow enforcement officers should be armed with snow shovels, not guns.
There are many alternatives to punishment which will be more effective at clearing sidewalks:
- talk to your neighbors. Perhaps they are unaware of their social obligation, out of town, physically disabled, or like my college neighbors simply lack a shovel. I am happy to lend them mine, and shovel for the neighbors who can’t.
- The city of Boulder could remove laws requiring a license to shovel snow for pay. There are plenty of young people able and willing to do such work, but current regulations make it too expensive and difficult to be worthwhile.
- Shovel it yourself. Then it’s done and it probably didn’t take any longer than a call to the police. They’ve got better things to do.
Love, not Punishment http://sheriffoflove.com/
With the November 4th, 2014 election approaching, my low-key campaign for Boulder County Sheriff continues. As a write-in candidate registered as Toby Fernsler, my name does not appear on the ballot and has been omitted from local news candidate lists. The Boulder Weekly went so far as to say incumbant Joe Pelle is the only candidate running, but did run my letter the next week pointing out that to be a write-in candidate requires registering a year in advance, filing regular timely paperwork, and submitting fingerprints for an FBI background check.
When the final vote is tallied one thing that may not be reflected is the quality of the votes. I have been gladdened by those people who not only went out of their way to discover my name, but then took the time to call me and let me know they wrote it in. As a mathematician practicing non-violence, I am offering a sharp contrast to traditional law-enforcement. It is somewhat experimental, one that we would all participate in. As sheriff I expect I would quickly discover the limits of treating all with dignity and compassion, and yet I will still choose to try. This is true for county residents as well, which is why I say voting for me is voting for yourself too, claiming the confidence to renounce government violence and extend trust to your neighbors. Extending trust and respect has served me well on a personal level, but not always. I do not know what would occur if it were applied as government and social policy. My many thanks to those who, like me, wish to find out.
My name is Toby Fernsler, and my message is Love.
“Suffering from a lack of sleep, just how is a homeless person supposed to do all the things necessary for overcoming their homelessness?” asks Barbieux.
I have a solution: Free Beer.
Just kidding, sort of. Hear me out.
The Methodology of Universal Love states that the best solution is the one that is a solution from all points of view. Downtown business owners would like their customers to be able to visit their stores without tripping over a sleeping person at the entrance. So the owners want the homeless to sleep elsewhere. Homeless people need a place to sleep. Urgently. Perhaps even tonight. Perhaps earlier. Anywhere they can.
How can we meet the needs of both?
Software developers speak frequently of two kinds of Free: Free as in speech, or free as in beer. Free-Speech sleeping is being able to sleep past dawn, which doesn’t happen in a homeless shelter (read the article). Free-Beer sleeping is not having to pay for it.
“Sometimes, when I make enough out here, I check into a hotel just to sleep in a room by myself.”
What if the homeless didn’t have to choose between those options?
Here’s my proposal: pick a plot of land on the edge of town, and declare it ok to camp there. Sleep in a tent, past dawn. Provide basic necessities for free: toilet, shower, laundry. Put in a kitchen and serve regular wholesome meals. Create community gardens, raise chickens. Put up a free thrift store, food drop-off, bicycle repair, yoga studio (this is Boulder). Run it like an Occupy encampment; serving and run by the community. Create micro-neighborhoods like Burning Man camps; family, rowdy, newcomers, etc. Those communities will decide what they’ll allow in camp.
Call it Free Town: Free living for the Free People.
Sheriff of Love
Cahill apparently had barged into a modest home where he knew no one, with cocaine and alcohol in his system. And although the shooting has been ruled “justified” by police, to his loved ones, that finding doesn’t equate to an adequate explanation.
If an intoxicated and belligerent stranger broke into my home, I too would be inclined to forcefully evict them. If I was intoxicated and had head trauma from being beaten in the street, I might seek shelter where I could find it and be in poor condition to explain myself. If my brother died suddenly, I would be sad and want to know what happened. This is the Methodology of Universal Love; considering each point of view without prejudice and seeing the validity and truth in them. My favorite description comes through Charles Eisenstein, “Love is seeing through the illusions which separate us”.
New Orleans police have never revealed his identity because they consider the shooter in a justified homicide to be a victim.
Here the New Orleans police are acting to protect the shooter, out of fear that he may be the target of retaliatory actions. There is no love in this action for those who grieve Cahill’s death as their perspective and needs go unaddressed. And in fact there is no love for the shooter, who has only his gun collection and a poorly guarded secret as defense against the unknown. It is hard to know his mind, but I know when I hide from my fears I give them strength. Even the police who were involved before and after may hold trauma from this event.
“No matter how much we wish we could turn back the clock and stop this senseless tragedy, our sense of helplessness lingers, and nothing we can do will bring him back,” said Ken Cahill
This helplessness and fear need not linger, because there is an ancient practice interpreted as modern programs with an excellent track record of addressing the needs of all parties to traumatic events such as this. The essence of it is to gather these parties together with public witness and a moderator, and tell the many-sided story. Sometimes agreements come of this which ease fears and sooth wounds, sometimes there is no need, and I have never heard of a case where it was less effective than fear and punishment alone. In South Africa it was called the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission“. Here in Boulder County the sheriff’s office hosts the small but potent Restorative Justice program, run by the tireless volunteer Jennifer Quilling.
I believe the Cahills, friends of Joe, the New Orleans police, the shooter and his family would all benefit greatly from participating in such a process. So too would those of us who read this newspaper article, and wondered “Is that it? Is that how the story ends?”. Let us tell some stories, and write a new ending to this one.