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Forget Trump, feds' reaction to city's 'problem property' bill is real fascism

Could it really be "discriminatory" for Fort Wayne to crack down on properties where mayhem and even murder are all too common? Apparently the federal government thinks so. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Could it really be "discriminatory" for Fort Wayne to crack down on properties where mayhem and even murder are all too common? Apparently the federal government thinks so. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Tuesday, December 06, 2016 12:01 AM
Much of the news media would have you believe the election of Donald Trump was nothing more than an expression of fed-up white nationalism. Just this week the folks at the Journal Gazette editorialized about the possible rebirth of fascism although, to be fair, they seem satisfied Western democracies aren't yearning for the days of Mussolini and Hitler. Yet.

But, let's face it, nowhere is the authoritarian impulse stronger than on the political left. From speech codes and "safe spaces" on college campuses to attacks on religious freedom fueled by Obamacare and progressive sexual politics, Americans are being told traditional concepts of liberty and plain old common sense must take a seat in the back of the societal bus to accommodate new standards of "fairness."

Take the city's plan to crack down on "chronic problem properties," for example.

First introduced in September, the ordinance was intended to give police and other officials a means by which to clean up problem-plagued addresses. A residential property would fall under ordinance if there were five or more valid complaints or citations within 60 days; commercial properties would be considered problematic after 12 or more complaints within 90 days. Owners who failed to take action within a year could face fines. Despite support from the police, the bill was withdrawn — in part because some feared the proposed crackdown on anti-social and even criminal behavior could somehow violate federal fair-housing laws.

And where would anyone get such a nutty (shall we say "fascistic?") idea? Not from Donald Trump.

About the time the bill was introduced, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a 13-page document suggesting such proposals could "violate the Fair Housing Act when they have an unjustified discriminatory affect, even when the local government had no intent to discriminate . . . Thus, where a policy or practice that restricts the availability of housing on the basis of nuisance conduct has a disparate impact on individuals of a particular protected class, the policy or practice is unlawful . . . if it is not necessary to serve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest of local government or if such interest could be served by another practice that has a less discriminatory effect."

Not being a lawyer or federal bureaucrat, I'm not sure what that means. But I suspect it boils down to this: The federal government is more eager to protect members of "protected classes" who cause problems and commit crimes than it is to protect members of those same classes who would be the most directly victimized by those problems and crimes.

Such concerns are the direct result of the modern redefinition of "discrimination." As HUD's letter states, intent need not be present; the mere fact that a policy affects some groups more than others — "disparate impact" — is enough to make the policy suspect in the eyes of the law, no matter how necessary its benefits or benign its motives.

In the real world, however, police must respond to complaints and events that may or may not comply with the statistical parities favored by federal bureaucrats. Ignoring obvious problems for the sake of social justice makes about as much sense as, well, obscuring the nature of terrorism to mollify Muslim sensibilities. It's always good to be skeptical of anyone who has a problem with reality.

To be sure, HUD' was not the only voice questioning the ordinance. The Indiana Apartment Association, for example, in September suggested the proposal would "inappropriately punish a property owner for items which may be out of their control." A valid point, but the city's longstanding drug-house ordinance already holds landlords accountable for illegal acts committed on their property. Are some groups "disparately affected" by that? Should anyone care?

The ordinance will be back on City Council's table Tuesday, including amendments that sunset the law after three years and prohibit discrimination by based on "race, creed, religion, sex, age or national origin." City spokesman John Perlich said the new version should also pass HUD scrutiny because it "clearly exempts victims, including victims of domestic violence, stalking, etc. and anyone else with mental/physical disabilities . . . It’s our belief that the mechanisms in place will not only protect a potential misclassification as a CPP, but also enhance police involvement and presence in the community."

Neighborhood leaders, meanwhile, are mobilizing support for the bill. I presume their stated motive — to "stop urban blight and loss of property value" — is an honorable one. But then, it doesn't really matter, does it?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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