When “Rights” Aren’t

In the past year, a group of vagrants have established a camp under the Highway 59 overpass at Wheeler. Property owners in the Museum Park neighborhood have complained about vandalism, defecation in public, and similar acts.

In April, the city passed an ordinance that prohibits camping on public property, but the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit, claiming that the ordinance violated the rights of the homeless. In August, a federal judge issued a restraining order blocking enforcement.

This is a perfect example of what occurs when rights are attached to groups rather than individuals: actual rights are ultimately violated in the name of protecting the alleged rights of the group.

Rights pertain to freedom of action. They protect the freedom of individuals to act on their own judgment, so long as they respect the freedom of others to do the same. A homeless individual has the same rights as a home owner.

To speak of the “rights of the homeless” implies that homeless individuals have rights that are separate and distinct from home owners and renters. And so, the homeless are allowed to threaten individuals, vandalize homes and businesses, and defecate on the door steps of private property. In short, they are permitted to violate the rights of other citizens.

Even if the city cannot enforce the camping ban, it can and should protect the rights of individuals. Camping on public property doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. Actions such as threatening others with baseball bats and guns, breaking security cameras, and vandalizing property do violate the rights of others. The city should be prosecuting those respolnsible.

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