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We need to detain crazy people who wander our streets


I don’t usually agree with Trump but I did when he suggested that the federal government might demolish “rat and rodent-infested” homeless camps and commit obviously crazy people, even against their will, into forced incarceration and treatment.

I am an unabashed liberal. I make no apologies for my lifelong support of Democrats. I’m proud of my family’s Democratic heritage, from FDR and JFK to Carter, Clinton and Obama. And I hope trump is impeached or, failing that, defeated next year.

But it’s clear that something has gone seriously amiss here in California. I live in one of the epicenters of homelessness: downtown Oakland, where the homeless rate has grown by 47% in the last two years.

I’ve been here for 32 years; the situation has never been this bad, and it’s getting worse by the day. And what I’m now in favor of—even though it does involve a certain curtailment of the civil liberties of some people—is detaining these mental cases, so that they can’t wander the streets, annoying and endangering us, the law-abiding citizens.

It seems to me that we have to distinguish between different groupings among the homeless. There’s the majority of homeless people who, through no fault of their own, have lost the ability to put a roof over their heads. We have to do whatever we can to help them; Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities are striving mightily to build shelters, navigation centers and affordable housing, but the problem, of course, is that there’s never enough money to pay for it, and our cities and counties can’t raise taxes much higher than they already are.

Then there’s the sub-population of people I’m most concerned with: the ones we can call, for the sake of convenience, the ranters. You’ve seen them: they’re obviously deranged, walking in erratic patterns, often talking or yelling to themselves, collapsed in the gutter; and these people seem capable of violence and criminality. It’s terribly unpopular, in the politically-correct Bay Area, to say you’re afraid of people simply on the basis of how they publicly behave (especially if they’re people of color), but the fact is, we all recognize bizarre behavior when we see it—it’s part of our evolutionary heritage–and it seems obvious that some or most of these people commit some of the crimes that plague those of us who live in the inner cities: car break-ins, burglaries, and muggings, not to mention the daily nuisances of upturned trash cans, filth and litter, the smell of urine that pervades our downtown neighborhoods, and the unpleasantness of being accosted by them.

These people need treatment whether they want it or not, and regardless of what the American Civil Liberties Union claims. It’s just not right to allow a mentally ill population to trash our cities and jeopardize the safety of millions of people, simply to worship at the intellectual shrine of “civil liberties.” There is nothing “civil” about permitting crazy people to run rampant. There is no “liberty” that mandates unlimited freedom for people to break our laws and degrade our common standards and morés. This is not how or why our country was founded; it is not how America can survive.

Look: no nation can long endure when it permits an utter breakdown of civil order, especially in its cities. I believe, based on my experiences here in Oakland and the Bay Area, that the majority of homeless people are not the kinds of crazies I’m describing here. They constitute perhaps 5% of that population. But they are the ones that give all homeless people a bad reputation. And that’s why I favor rounding them up. They can be put into abandoned schools or prisons or public buildings that have been repurposed, and they can be offered whatever medical and psychological treatment is deemed necessary. All this will cost money—and the expenditure of these funds must be rigorously overseen to make sure that waste, fraud and abuse doesn’t occur.

Trump understands quite well that the vast majority of Americans are sick and tired of violence and degradation on our city streets. He is clearly trolling for a few votes with his suggestion. Democrats ought not to sit idly by and let Trump steal this legitimate issue for himself. We need to step up and admit the obvious: there are people out there who shouldn’t be out there, and if Democrats foolishly defend their “right” to be crazy in public, then Democrats don’t deserve to govern.

By the way, detaining mentally ill people isn’t merely a Republican or conservative position. San Francisco—arguably the most liberal city in America—recently approved the mandatory detention of crazy people, even against their will, through so-called “5150” conservatorships. San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, is certainly no right winger, but she’s feeling the heat, and approved the measure. So let’s move beyond this left-right charade. Public order and safety has nothing to do with politics; it has to do with what’s right and proper for civil society.

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