Not long ago, in a comment titled The Latest Twist in Slum Evictions, I got to whine and moan about how hard it is to be a well-intentioned slumlord. Today, on the theory that we all enjoy seeing a good train wreck, I thought another such vignette might brighten your day.
When I first started investing in and trying to fix up my little chunk of the slum, garbage was everywhere — in particular a vacant lot everyone had come to use as a dump. I bought that lot (giving me the right to pay taxes on it) and turned it into an attractive plot of grass and trees.
Another thing we started doing a couple of years ago was to try to pick up the loose garbage and palm fronds and old tires and whatever else was floating around the neighborhood. The city garbage people won’t pick this stuff up unless it’s specifically bagged and in the right place — and they’re not too keen on lingering in our neighborhood anyway. So on Monday mornings, one of our guys drives the pickup slowly up and down this small area as one or two others lope beside it tossing stuff in. Then we dump it all in front of yet another vacant lot in a spot worked out with our “NET” officers — the Neighborhood Enhancement Team for our area — shortly before the big garbage truck comes around noon to haul it all away.
We don’t get paid to do this, and the stuff we’re collecting isn’t, for the most part, from our buildings — we pay a private hauler to come empty our dumpsters — but it’s a very nice thing to be able to keep the area clean, and doesn’t take a lot of time. Lope, toss, dump.
This past Columbus Day Monday our guys did their lope, toss, dump as usual, when, to their surprise, a police officer emerged from the bushes and arrested them for illegal dumping.
(I should note that the bigger problem in the neighborhood is crack dealing. This is a problem the police only very occasionally make any pretense of confronting. They’re understaffed, overworked, and if the truth be told, arresting crack dealers is hard and sometimes dangerous work. There may even be payoffs involved somehow, though I would personally be shocked if it turned out the Miami police or city government were in any way corrupt.)
Luis and Tino, our employees, were just doing their job. They beeped Sal, my manager, who came rushing over to try to explain the lope/toss/dump arrangement we had worked out with the NET office.
Sal is, among other things, a C.O.P. — short for “Citizens On Patrol” — which is to say he volunteers for a program the Miami police encourage that trains citizens to work with the police in spotting problems, riding with them occasionally in police cars and so on and, just generally, being allies.
Arriving at the scene, Sal identified himself as a C.O.P. and tried to explain. He mentioned the names of two or three police officers we work with — all of whom, it being Columbus Day, were unavailable.
As Sal recounts it, the arresting officer would have none of this. He basically barked at him to shut up. One more word and he would be arrested as well.
After all, we were talking a felony here. Palm fronds and assorted trash had been gathered and dumped. What’s more, the officer told Sal, we were operating an illegal vehicle. There was a crack in the windshield and a piece of tape on one of the brake lights. (It is, as Sal explained, a hard-working truck.)
The truck was impounded. It cost us $160 to get it back.
Meanwhile, Luis and Tino, really nice, hard-working people, with really nice families, were handcuffed — handcuffed! — and taken to jail. Sal reached me and we both reached one of the police sergeants we’ve worked with, who said he’d try to help; but by five that evening, when our guys were still in jail, we simply paid the $1,000 non-refundable bail fee to get them out.
A preliminary court date was set for this past Monday. We were given a choice: plead guilty and have each guy accept a $250 fine, or plead not guilty and risk, if they lost, never being allowed to obtain U.S. citizenship. I wasn’t party to this difficult decision, but they chose to plead not guilty. A new court date is scheduled for a couple of weeks from now.
Assuming it’s all dropped — I can’t imagine two guys could really be convicted of a felony simply for doing their job, especially when that job is cleaning up the neighborhood — it will have cost us about $3,000 in cash (including legal fees), plus a good deal of lost time.
In an ideal world, the N.E.T. office would have given us some sort of official written authorization to dump in that spot Monday mornings, a copy of which each of our people would carry in his wallet. But it was never that formal, and I guess it had never occurred to us it could be a felony to clean up the neighborhood. A misdemeanor, perhaps — but a felony?
Click here to find out how I got into this mess in the first place. [Warning: this is a trick click, and takes you directly to my shelf at the on-line bookstore.]
Quote of the Day
[It would be splendid if someday] economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists.~John Maynard Keynes
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