Category Archives: Ideas and Issues

The Campaign to Ban Tear Gas

Pearl River     We’ve talked about Bjorn Skogquist before, but this time we wanted to catch up with him and the Ban Tear Gas Campaign in more detail on Wade’s World.  Bjorn was a former mayor of a small suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, who found himself forced into action at his horror at George Floyd’s death by police and then the police tactics used to confront and disperse the protestors from tear gas to pepper spray to rubber bullets.  Feeling like he had to do something, he started a Facebook page, the first step for so many outraged activists in these times.  He hit a nerve and in less than three months 24,000 people have liked the page!

It’s an active site.  Skogquist tries not to post more than a couple of times a week, but there is so much happening around the country in the fight against dispersants that sometimes there are two or three posts a day.  These are not trees falling in the forest.  Sometimes more than 500 people will like a post and almost as many share it.  I don’t know if that makes it viral, but I know that’s hot.

Skogquist is both excited and overwhelmed by the response to this “back pocket” campaign.  He now has a couple of volunteers who have offered to give him a hand.  He has plans for a website and hopes to put up a donate button soon.  Like any campaign, it’s an effort getting everything up off the ground and rolling.

Asking Skogquist about the various efforts to actually ban or restrict dispersants, his answers are more measured.  Most legislatures, including his own in Minnesota have backed away from real action.  Partially from his own experience and a sense of political realism, when asked where the campaign was going next, Skogquist was certain that the breakthroughs would come through action by municipal governments.  Pressed where he had the most hope, he answered Sacramento, California, Asheville, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, and Madison, Wisconsin, all of which he believed were preparing or already engaged in active, local, grassroots efforts.

Even in New Orleans, where there has not been much of a campaign, the reaction to the use of tear gas by police for the first time in decades against George Floyd protestors has led to an ordinance being enacted before the City Council.  The police department seems in agreement, so this is likely far from a full-on ban.  No action was taken on rubber bullets, another concern of the campaign.  As noted by the Lens, the…

…police department had deployed tear gas for the use of crowd control, and in the immediate aftermath of the incident, NOPD was heavily criticized for the decision. (What was not immediately acknowledged by the department, but later confirmed, was that some officers used projectiles as well.)

Skogquist gets almost more riled up over the harm inflicted by rubber bullets, than tear gas, but it’s all part and parcel of the militarization of police in general and their tactics in specific in dealing with even peaceful protests in recent years.

This problem is not coming to a town near you.  It is likely already in your town.  Pushing back with a campaign to ban these tactics is going to need to be a fight city by city, town by town in order to protect the right of peaceful protest in America.

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CDC’s Eviction Ban, Please and Maybe

New Orleans     I didn’t want to be right on this, but from any reading of the Center for Disease Control’s federal eviction ban, it was clear that it was going to be a hot mess when it came to implementation.  At one level, the order was full of a Swiss cheese of holes left open to subjective interpretation, self-certification, and potentially contentious disagreements.  The CDC offered no straight path for tenants to follow, other than a declaration statement of their income, and no incentive for landlords to do anything but grin and bear it, which they are notoriously unable to do.  With neither the tenants nor the landlords getting any relief, they would all just swim in the unhappy stew until the end of the year.  What could go wrong?  Just about everything it had seemed to me, and, tragically, that seems to be playing out around the country.

A story by Matthew Goldstein in the New York Times makes the case that any dental inspection of the CDC order to determine whether or not it has any teeth or is all gums, pretty much depends on where you live and even what judge you might happen to draw, if you are facing eviction.  Local judges in North Carolina have questioned the constitutionality of the order, and a landlord in Atlanta has filed suit over the question. Some judges believe the order only affects tenants who were covered under the CARES stimulus package.  Some think it only deals with new filings or freezes them in place.  Some don’t seem to care what the order says and ignore it completely.  About the only encouraging word came out of New Hampshire of all places where,

…the state’s Supreme Court has put the onus on the landlords. An order from the court said they must file affidavits stating that they are in compliance with the C.D.C. order before commencing an eviction proceeding and must notify the court if at any point a tenant signs a declaration saying she can’t pay rent because of the pandemic.

Anarchy rules and tenants suffer.  Housing advocates, lawyers, and professors who study this are all unanimous in arguing that there needs to be uniform interpretation and implementation of the order, but without a real mechanism for enforcement, how is that going to happen?  The fines detailed in the order were significant, but I would take a bet that when this is all said and done, less than a handful of landlords will suffer any penalties, and one or none will end up with a $200,000 hit.  This is actually why we elect people to Congress to make real laws and real policies that have the full strength of the federal government, and proof again why the US pandemic response has been so lame and incompetent.

Meanwhile the big boys do what they want, when they want, and how they want.  According to the Private Equity Stakeholder Project,

Corporate landlords, including private equity firms, filed more than 1,500 eviction actions in large counties in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Texas since the C.D.C. announced it was imposing a moratorium….

What’s a $100 or $200,000 fine to the big whoops, compared to losing rent from tenants, imperiled and out of work?  It’s chickenfeed, and makes a mockery of the order from the CDC providing any hope for most tenants as little more than chicken scratch.

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