The common sense view of the law is that there should be only the minimum number of laws necessary and that they should be enforced uniformly and consistently. So there is a whole category of laws — forbidding things like loitering, spitting on the sidewalk, jaywalking and littering — that are despicable. They are routinely ignored, but then righteously and zealously prosecuted when committed by somebody the authorities are out to get.
It's called “selective enforcement,” and authorities who defend the practice as a way to create a safe environment in the community should be viewed with extreme skepticism bordering on cynicism.
That's the only way to look at Mayor Bob Hall and other officials of Charlestown, Ind., who are trying to selectively enforce residents of the low-income Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood right out of their homes so a developer can tear them down and put up a fancy new subdivision. There is evidence the officials have been colluding — that seems the most fitting word — with developers to drive down the cost of acquiring the property.
Home owners or landlords have been harassed with surprise inspections and hit with thousands of dollars in fines for code violations — things as trivial as a one-inch hole in a screen door or mildew on the side of a house, residents complain. Many homeowners have given up — 160 have sold out to the developer.
But others have gone to court to fight, and more power to them. Mayor Hall says he has done nothing wrong in trying to help remove a “low-rent” neighborhood that can attract people “who are not contributing to society.” He as much as told some of his community's most vulnerable to go to hell.
The question is not whether Charlestown has the right to inspect property. It certainly does. The point is not whether Pleasant Ridge has code violations. Of course it has. What matters is how zealously city officials inspected the neighborhood before the developer showed up and how vigorously they enforce the code in other neighborhoods right now. The burden of proof should be on the city to prove it has not abused its power.
“In a constitutional republic, we want our democratic representatives to set aside their ideological visions of what our community should look like,” Indiana Policy Review Editor Craig Ladwig wrote in an essay for this page Tuesday. “Rather, we want them to encourage a culture of government seeking to preserve the justice inherent in private property.”
Any “community” that does not have at its foundation a respect for its citizens' rights does not deserve the name. Until it demonstrates otherwise, Charlestown should not be called an Indiana community.