Tag Archives: Church Street Marketplace

When Activism Turns Antisocial

My previous post was about the merchants of Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace seeking legislative action to toughen anti-loitering and vagrancy laws — turning misdemeanors into criminal offenses. My point was that their fear and concern are understandable but misplaced. They face an existential crisis thanks to President Trump’s boneheaded handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the way forward is not to kick out or lock up the city’s most vulnerable; it’s to address the root causes of homelessness, substance use, mental illness, etc., in common cause with the city government, social service resources and members of the community.

Now we’ve got the inevitable egregious overreaction to the merchants’ pleas for help: a Twitter campaign urging a boycott of the merchants. One Tweeter, who shall go nameless here, warned signees “Get off the list or you’re in for a bad time.” Yeah, threats are always in season. Another pondered doing their shopping on Amazon instead of downtown retailers. The Burlington Tenants Union chimed in with support for the boycott.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about what we’re all — I hope — trying to accomplish: A city that’s compassionate, that tackles its problems in common cause, that seeks solutions that work for all its people.

The merchants are part of the Burlington community. They are taxpayers and employers. And they are currently going through a period of extreme stress. The last thing they need is a boycott. The last thing the entire city needs is a bunch of vacancies on Church Street. That would hurt the tax base and throw Burlingtonians out of work, leaving the city with fewer resources to tackle its problems.

If you won’t listen to me, perhaps you’d listen to your patron saint, Bernie Sanders.

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Panic on Church Street

The Church Street Marketplace (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

The good merchants of Burlington’s Church Street are up in arms over an alleged plague of loitering and related bad behavior. Or, as several dozen of them described their charming streetscape in a letter to Chittenden County state senators, “public intoxication, open drug use, public urination and defecation, public sex acts, aggressive and harassing behavior, commandeering and blocking public thoroughfares, and sleeping or camping in both private and public spaces.”

Ick. Well, I haven’t been on Church Street since the pandemic hit, but that sounds more like my old stomping grounds in Detroit (pictured above) than the crown jewel of Vermont downtowns.

Anyway, they are asking for tougher state laws on various abuses of the common. And their lament drew a quick and caustic response from the progressive Twitterverse. “Bicycles & Books” wrote, “Throwing more cops at a problem is never the solution.” Josh Lisenby added, “Merchants want to lock up the poor.” Mairead Catherine suggested a boycott of the merchants.

And this from Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George:

But actually, I feel quite a bit of sympathy for the merchants. They’re suffering from two consecutive seasons, with no end in sight, of greatly reduced foot traffic on the Marketplace. If the pandemic continues much longer, which it seems certain to do, it’s very likely that one-third or more of those merchants will be out of business within months. A lot of people would suffer, a lot of workers would lose jobs, and Church Street would be in danger of losing the critical mass of merchants it needs to remain vibrant.

The merchants can’t do anything about Covid-19, so they’re looking for anything else that might help. But no, making criminals of the least among us is not the answer.

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