Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Homelessness, and Jails: The Cult of Vengeance
© by Mark Dempsey
The first rule of the Cult of Vengeance is the same as for Fight Club: Don’t talk about Fight Club. Don’t talk about the Cult of Vengeance either, and certainly never admit you’re a member, perhaps not even to yourself.
The Cult of Vengeance is a seldom-discussed part of our civic religion--the beliefs that bind our society together. It declares that people earn their circumstances. So the wealthy are, by the Cult’s lights, virtuous, while the poor and unfortunate have obviously offended some god, or force of nature and deserve their fate. Punishing them is really just giving them what they deserve. Meanwhile, those wealthy enough to be born on third base deserve to act like they hit a triple.
What can I say? It’s a cult, not science.
The Cult is particularly pernicious when public policy supports it. Sue Frost, my County Supervisor, says she agrees that the plight of the homeless is driven by public policies that include persecuting and evicting them from even the modest shelter they devise in our parks. Yet she recently wrote an editorial condemning the ninth circuit court of appeals for invalidating the County’s anti-camping ordinances. The court concluded the homeless qualify as part of the public entitled to use public spaces like parks.
Let’s grant that Ms. Frost has a tough job, providing public spaces for the entire public--even those whose feces and dirty needles are a health hazard. After conceding that public policy produced homelessness, she defended rousting the homeless out of parks, saying she's a good person despite that. She went on to cite her own charity, her belief in a god, and in the kind of merciful treatment that gives people second, third, and even fourth chances to redeem themselves.
But when it comes to public policy, the best she has to offer is criticism for that court decision. The County has never handled homelessness well, and has added 500 new beds for a homeless population that’s roughly 2,000 people larger this year.
Let’s ignore, for the moment, that Supervisor Sue can’t imagine providing porta-potties, or needle exchanges. Let’s even ignore that the Biblical injunction is not to forgive four times, it’s to forgive “seventy times seven” times, essentially treating people where they are, not where we would like them to be. Clearly she follows a different god.