I can go into a restaurant and ask to use a restroom. Usually the response is: "It is right this way." A homeless person in a restaurant will be turned away. I can rest on a park bench, and no one will challenge my right to sit there. A homeless person will be asked to move on. The list goes on.

D.C. Council members Sharon Ambrose and Jack Evans now want to codify a new indignity. Legislation they have introduced would allow police officers to arrest individuals without a warrant or without even witnessing the offense the person allegedly committed. For example, a citizen can claim that a homeless person has urinated in a park. If the police officer believes the hearsay testimony, the officer can arrest the homeless person.

This legislation clearly is aimed at homeless people, but it has the potential to turn the District into a finger-pointing battleground where one person after another accuses some other person of a misdemeanor.

There are reasonable ways to respond to people who urinate in public because they can't find a place to urinate in private, to deal with seriously mentally ill people who act like seriously mentally ill people. However, one can predict that this bill will mean more minorities, more mentally ill individuals, more recent immigrants and more poor people will end up in jail.

Do citizens of the District really want to see this further erosion of their fundamental civil rights?



The writer is pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church.