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The Wrong Side of History: A Comparison of Modern and Historical Criminalization Laws

39 Pages Posted: 8 May 2015  

Javier Ortiz

Seattle University School of Law

Matthew Dick

Seattle University School of Law

Sara Rankin

Seattle University School of Law

Date Written: May 4, 2015

Abstract

Like many other cities throughout the country, Washington’s homeless population is being targeted through ordinances infused with a historical spirit of control and discrimination. The policy brief looks at the history of criminalization laws by focusing on historical criminalization laws and how they paved a way for current anti-homeless ordinances. The policy brief reveals that the spirit of historical criminalization laws is present in anti-homeless ordinances today. Since these historical laws have been repealed and overturned, so should anti-homeless ordinances that share the same spirit of control, exclusion, and discrimination.

The brief focuses on five historical laws and modern anti-homeless ordinances through case studies: Vagrancy; Anti-Okie, Jim Crow, Ugly, and Sundown Town laws. Each section discusses the impetus for each law and the effect it had on targeted individuals. Next, the brief examines specific language from these laws and how they were applied - and ultimately, how they were overturned by judges, legislatures, and public opinion. The brief then shifts focus to three case studies of modern anti-homeless ordinances.

This comparison reveals that modern anti-homeless ordinances share much of the same form, phrasing, and function as historical laws that banned African-Americans from attending public school with white Americans; that banned Midwesterners from entering Western states during the Great Depression; and that banned people with physical disabilities from residing in certain cities. And yet, anti-homeless ordinances are just contemporary expressions of the same impulse to marginalize already marginalized people. Ultimately, this brief shows that modern anti-homeless ordinances are just historically infamous laws in a new guise.

Keywords: public space, homelessness, race, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, LGBTQ, homeless, poverty, constitutional rights, civil rights, human rights, criminalization, neoliberal

Suggested Citation

Ortiz, Javier and Dick, Matthew and Rankin, Sara, The Wrong Side of History: A Comparison of Modern and Historical Criminalization Laws (May 4, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2602533 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2602533

Javier Ortiz (Contact Author)

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

Matthew Dick

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

Sara Rankin

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

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