Michelle McCormick said she and her husband were at Fort Walton Landing Saturday with two young children. She said her husband was wrestling with them when a police officer approached.
“She walked up to us and said, ‘Sir, I’m going to have to tell you to get up. There’s an ordinance against lying down in the park,’ ” McCormick said.
This law was, of course, intended to ban homeless people from sleeping in parks. It is one of among many pretext laws in the United States. A pretext law is legislation passed for an ulterior motive intended to give law enforcement a pretext to enforce a norm. For example:
Police officials said the ordinance is intended to keep people from sleeping in the park and interfering with the use of local parks.
“There’s a safety factor,” Royal said. “You may trip someone.”
City Manager Michael Beedie said he wasn’t sure when the ordinance was enacted but that it was designed to keep vagrants and others from sleeping in the park.
The pretext is the “safety factor.” The intent of the law is, as Michael Beedie admitted, to keep vagrants from sleeping in the park. However, it would be illegal to discriminate against the homeless. Thus a pretext is needed – “safety” – in order to keep the undesirable, dirty, unwashed masses from using the public space.
Always be wary when a new law is being proposed that is designed to “protect” or promote “safety” in some way.