We had assumed, back when Dallas police first floated their proposal to crack down on "spontaneous encampments," that the measure was a delayed response to Occupy Dallas. Turns out, we were wrong.
"This is not toward a specific group at all," Dallas Police Chief David Brown told the City Council's Public Safety Committee this morning. "It's targeted to sanitation and crime."
Never mind that photos from the original briefing were all from Occupy Dallas. It seems that any time a group of people set up tents or tent-like structures on public property for an extended period -- which, according to Brown, happens more often than you might think -- chaos ensues. He vaguely alluded to cases of domestic violence, of underage girls getting raped, and of "horrible, unsanitary conditions" at such camps. "There's this victimization of them against each other inside these encampments," Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence chimed in.
Most committee members saw wisdom in DPD's. Delia Jasso, after stipulating that the ordinance include an exemption for people camping out for Justin Bieber tickets, got on board. Brown promised the same exemption to apply to people camping out for an as-yet-unscheduled North Texas Super Bowl.
Carolyn Davis gave an impassioned speech about people loitering in vacant lots and drinking -- neither of which is addressed in the proposed ordinance -- but no committee member was quite as vociferous as Sheffie Kadane.
"I'm gonna tell you most of these people need to go to the hospital," Kadane said. "They have mental problems. They need help. And why they don't use The Bridge, I don't know." Even when Brown clarified that the measure primarily targets protesters and not homeless people, Kadane's glee was undiminished. "I can't imagine having people tenting in our streets and on our sidewalks. It's just not right."
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Only Sandy Greyson seemed the least bit concerned that the new rules seem to have been designed specifically to give police more power to displace protest groups. She was unswayed by Brown's assertion that he "state law and other laws deal with assembly and the right to speak on public property. [Editor's note: Brown seems to be referring to the Constitution.] This is only for tenting and camping."
"I just want assurance that we have a neutral process that says 'We love you football fans, we're gonna let you set up tents but we don't love you over here, so we're not going to give you a permit,'" Greyson said.
She was the only member to vote against the new rules, though she might reconsider when the proposal heads to the full council if she's sees evidence that there will be some sort of fair and open permitting process. The rest of her colleagues voted in favor, but only after Kadane got one extra assurance.
"If I'm out camping at White Rock Lake and I've got two boys with me who are Boy Scouts, y'all aren't talking about that are you?"