Denver police are now also bouncers for 16th Street Mall, banning certain unfortunate people from experiencing the giddy delight of outdoor shopping, because there's no issue more pressing than having the right crowd at the shopping mall.
Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people have been banned from Denver's 16th Street Mall, the most densely populated street in all of Colorado and Denver's No. 1 tourist attraction. Not surprisingly, this is creating some heady tension between the local authorities, defenders of civil rights, and people who just came to the 16th Street Promenade to buy Plan B at Walgreens before GTFO-ing with a Starbucks venti cinnamon dolce latte in hand.
The controversial bans are apparently intended to reduce crime, but aren't being tracked by anyone so no one knows what effect they're having on either the area's crime rate or the offenders of whatever menial mall crime they're being banned for.
… Which make us wonder: what do you have to do to get banned from 16th Street Mall? Forget your takeout at the Cheesecake Factory? Spill your beer at the Tilted Kilt? Have too much fun cuddling sheep leather at the Overland Sheepskin Co.? It's the yuppiest, most commercial part of Denver by a landslide victory of basic-ness, so we can only imagine that ban-able infractions would include either Starbucks or Verizon store-related offenses.
But nah, turns out you just have to be a person without a warm shelter to get banned. Police have been 86-ing various homeless people from the promenade, claiming that it'll reduce crime and make all the pot tourists from Quaker Pennyslavania feel more comfortable.
Of course, many of Denver's homeless population chooses to sleep on 16th Street Mall because it's safer and and more proximate to most of Denver's homeless shelters and clinics than other areas of the city. Driving them out only demonstrate's Denver's lack of a plan to effectively deal with vagrants, as well as puts them in danger by pushing them away from safe, well-lit areas and the resources they need to not die and stuff.
And the things these homeless people are doing aren't even that disruptive; most arrests on 16th Street Mall are for non-violent offenses like not having a McMansion and smoking a joint.
The bans raise questions about the sensitive balance between public safety and civil rights, and the usefulness of banning drug addicts, shoplifters and general troublemakers from one area of the city. And because authorities don't track area restrictions or study their effectiveness, no one knows whether the bans stop crime or move it elsewhere.
Of course, police and prosecutors argue that the bans decrease crime and temptation, protecting out-of-town visitors, office workers and restaurant customers and theatergoers downtown, making it a safer place to visit.
But it's not really the "crime" that keeps people off of 16th Street Mall and LoDo in general; it's the parking and flagrantly commercial businesses that make up the promenade. Why would you park 12 blocks away and walk in the freezing cold to go to Ross Dress for Less? And how many "theatergoers" are there really? Should we really be endangering our homeless population for the sake of like 14 people who have a flair for musical renditions of Death of a Salesman?
It's pretty unfair punish people simply for appearing in a public place if they're not breaking any other laws, and there are a lot of questions about how well something like that can be enforced. Are all Denver police expected to know the faces off all mall-banishees at all times? We can't even remember the faces of people we've had sex with, so we don't know how the DPD are expected to remember faces of people they've not had sex with.
The area-restriction policy even concerns the ACLU, who argue that laws against panhandling and trespassing laws "criminalize" homelessness.
"There is really something wrong about making it a crime for someone to appear on a public sidewalk in a public place," said ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein.
The policy, as it currently stands, is about as effective as placing Gandalf on 16th and Market so he can stop excommunicated mall-rats from re-entering the sacred area.
And look, going to the mall is painful enough as it is without the added stress of segregating Denver's rich and poor. People of both societal strata should be able to intersect in peace … isn't that what the Starbucks bathroom is for?