Most folks would be happy if their neighbors got evicted after three different “disorderly behavior” instances in less than three months. No one wants to deal with that much partying, dog barking, or loud music, right? But a “three strikes” disorderly behavior ordinance in Norristown, Pennsylvania, is now being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of PA because instead of just evicting noisy nuisance neighbors, it is being used to evict innocent domestic violence victims for calling the police for help.
The ACLU filed this week on behalf of Lakisha Briggs, a domestic violence victim who called the police last year when her ex-boyfriend assaulted her; they arrived and arrested him. But police also told Briggs that if they kept returning to the residence over disorderly behavior calls, she would get evicted. Not surprisingly, Briggs was afraid to call the police regarding future incidents — including the time her ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick — over fear that she and her three-year-old child would become homeless. And yet after a June 2012 attack from her ex-boyfriend that had Briggs airlifted to the hospital, police of Norristown threatened to evict them from their home because neighbors had called to complain.
Clearly the ordinance is intended to force landlords to evict bad neighbors and outright criminals from their property: landlords face fines of up to $1,000 a day for keeping disruptive tenants around. However, the ACLU is challenging Norristown’s ordinance (which was repealed and later reinstated) for Lakisha Briggs on the grounds it violates a person’s right ton contact law enforcement, as well as the federal Violence Against Women Act which protects domestic violence victims from eviction. The ACLU is also invoking the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, as “evictions based on domestic violence can discriminate against women, because such evictions are often motivated by gender stereotypes that hold victims responsible for the abuse they experience, and because the vast majority of victims are women.”
One possible way to fix this? Scrap the ordinance once and for all, or perhaps remove domestic violence calls from the Norristown police’s definition of “disorderly behavior.” (As far as I know, the way that DV calls are classified by police varies by municipality.) One thing is clear, though: no victim of domestic violence, child or adult, should ever have to fear homelessness at the hands of their police force just for calling 911.
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[Image of upset woman calling 911 from Shutterstock]