Did you know that many cities and towns across the country have what are called “nuisance ordinances,” “crime-free ordinances,” or “disorderly behavior ordinances,” that subject landlords and tenants to fines when the police respond to a proscribed number of “disorderly behavior” complaints within a designated period of time? Such ordinances specifically include “domestic disturbances” as among the forms of disorderly conduct that be punished under the law.
What are the predictable consequences of such laws? Landlords evict tenants who cause them to be fined…including women who call the police because they are being beaten by their husbands or boyfriends. The laws, therefore, penalize the victims of domestic abuse, and create a powerful disincentive for them to report it, since they must, in effect, choose between a beating and homelessness. They also tend to affect single mothers and those who live in poor neighborhoods.
Wait…what? What idiots would pass such a cruel and stupid law? The answer, unfortunately, is lots of idiots, because elected officials, as a general rule, are wretched at ethics chess, among other skills. They don’t think about the unfair and irresponsible results of their well-meaning, bone-headed, poorly drafted and ill-conceived laws by considering their likely consequences two, three and four moves ahead, which is what ethics chess requires. A law can have unethical and unintended outcomes that render it far worse than whatever it is the measure was intended to address, but determining what those outcomes are takes more care, diligence, intelligence and patience than most of our elected officials can muster. Continue reading