Exploiting Prejudice for Profit

A city’s welcoming attitude toward strangers, travelers and the poor might have its costs. But so does constantly cycling vulnerable people through the courts and jails. I’d rather give a dollar to a stranger than play any role in yet another unconstitutional law.

by Carol Denney

Exploiting prejudice for profit should not be a business model. The Arizona prison industry’s role in drafting SB 1070, the law requiring police to imprison people who can’t prove legal citizenship, has strong parallels in the Bay Area.

The prison industry stood to profit directly from building new prisons for the detention of men, women, and even children who were caught without documentation. Their draft language surfaced essentially unchanged at the legislative level, despite the conflict of interest.

San Francisco’s “sit/lie” legislation, which scapegoats sidewalk-sitters and homeless people, implies that sidewalk-sitters inhibit profits, and that business would thrive without the post-beat, post-hippie, post-punk generation of itinerant travelers sitting in commercial zones. Just as in Arizona, the legislation came straight from the business interests which stand to profit, at least in theory, from the ordinance.

But Berkeley’s similar measures in 1994, only partially trimmed by the courts for unconstitutionality, didn’t cause a business boom. Berkeley’s current election rhetoric continues to blame the least powerful, most vulnerable people in town for the fact that business is down, and some candidates argue for even more restrictive measures.

Well-connected business interests get a big slice of any politician’s time, but taxpayers who enjoy meeting travelers on the street, who feel enriched by their music, their stories, their creative spirit, need a place at the table where costly, potentially unconstitutional legislation is passed around like peanuts.

A city’s welcoming attitude toward strangers, travelers and the poor might have its costs. But so does constantly cycling vulnerable people through the courts and jails. I’d rather give a dollar to a stranger than play any role in yet another unconstitutional law.

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