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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Inclusion!

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Last week, Medford City Council presented the proposal for an exclusionary zone in downtown. The idea is that certain persons should be booted—or excluded—from the center of town. Already, someone who violates local laws and ordinances—like sleeping in the park—can be kicked out of the city park for 180 days. This new proposal would expand that concept to a large swath of downtown. Anyone committing even a minor violation—often ones that merely constitute a citation and not jail time, like public disorder—would be “excluded” from downtown.  

It is a Draconian measure, and an idea without legal or community-building validity. In the medieval era, it was called banishment. Pirates call it walking the plank. City officials in Medford call it a proposed city ordinance. We call it cruel, shortsighted and doomed to failure.

It seems as if any time a city experiences growing pains—San Francisco, Portland, Seattle—that city council floats the idea for an exclusionary zone, essentially a means to kick out the “unwanteds,” like the homeless men and women.

And, we’re not the first to say it, but a community is measured by how it treats its least fortunate and most needy. Pushing them out of town is no way that we want our communities to be run. Exclusionary zones are hardly compassionate and are a failed idea—both constitutionally-speaking and as a means for long-term solutions. Like squeezing a balloon, the problems don’t go away, they just bulge out in another part of the city. Only one city councilmember—Kevin Stine—voiced opposition to the idea, and we commend him for raising concerns.

However, the other councilors seemed to jump on board for the idea. In explaining his support, councilor Tim D’Alessandro pointed to homelessness and drunkenness by patrons at downtown bars as a primary concern. “There are people coming out of the bars intoxicated who are using alleyways as restrooms,” he explained.

D’Alessandro, who obviously has spent very little time in any college town, went on to explain that the exclusion zones could be a way to hold people accountable. (And seemed to be smudging a line between behavior of rowdy bar patrons and down-on-their-luck homeless men and women.)

Accountability? Yes, we absolutely agree. People should not be aggressive or make pedestrians feel uncomfortable and, no, people shouldn’t pee on sidewalks. Basic civic decency stuff. We agree.

However, kicking them out of downtown doesn’t accomplish that goal. It just moves it along. And, moreover, many of these homelessness men and women are homeless precisely because they are struggling with an ability to manage issues with drug or alcohol—saying that these men and women should have more accountability to their problems and issues isn’t a solution; it is cruel. Especially because within the exclusionary zone is the Jackson County Health Services building. If excluded, they wouldn’t have access anymore.

And here is where we pivot: In this issue, we feature the Ashland International Film Festival. In preparing for our coverage and interviewing interim Director Richard Herskowitz, I was struck by his passion and concern for using films as a platform for understanding different cultures and sensibilities. There are fine films at this year’s festival about homeless men (I Am Another You), about gay men (The Untold Stories of Armistead Maupin), and about countless other cultures and lifestyles—and these films are important because they can help us understand different lifestyles, and needs and wants. After all, compassion and understanding are two pathways to empathy, and (here’s where we bring it back to Medford city council) towards better policy-making.

There is enough angst, blame and finger-pointing at the federal level of government; we don’t need that tone at our local level. But it is frustrating that the Medford City Council is following that game plan—setting up an us versus them mentality, especially one that favors those with power using that power to exclude those without power, instead of using their privileges to help.

We sincerely hope that some Medford city councilmembers will head south to watch some of these films—and think creatively and compassionately about how we can find a solution that includes everyone, not excludes them.

 

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