How Can We Tolerate This?

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread.”
— Anatole France

Well, not in Miami, baby.

In Miami, the law in its majestic stupidity and evil requires three poor people to sleep under a bridge.

Yes. Really.

The Miami New Times has the story:

Swept Under the Bridge — It's 5:45 a.m. and still completely dark when a car pulls off NW Twelfth Avenue and makes its way silently through the complex of streets just south of the county criminal court. The car turns into the jury parking lot, otherwise completely empty. It creeps past the massive concrete pillars under the State Road 836 bridge, makes an abrupt turn, and stops. The door opens and a stocky, middle-aged man exits. He walks over to a pile of cardboard, bends down, picks up a flap, and peeps. Then he does the same to a pile of rags. Finally he re-enters his car and leaves. After a minute, the rags and cardboard begin to stir — three men stand up and begin packing their things.

The men are convicted sex offenders. The car, which visits every morning before dawn, belongs to Benito Casal, a state Department of Corrections (DOC) probation officer who enforces their 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew. If they aren't under the bridge between those hours, he will have them hunted down and arrested.

Court files, DOC documents, and probation case notes reveal that state authorities are not only aware the three sleep at the location just north of the Miami River — they sent them there. Unable or unwilling to find housing for the offenders as they left prison, probation officers Benito Casal, Kimilyn Cohen, and Robert Leiry began sending them to the bridge more than six months ago. Several circuit court judges may have known of the placement. Miami-Dade Police are aware of their location as well. Two of them list their address in the county's sex crimes bureau database as NW Twelfth Avenue and Twelfth Street, and the third is incorrectly registered as living at his victim's address.

The idea to stash offenders under the bridge seems to have originated within a county probation office; very possibly it was Casal himself who started the practice. On June 12, 2006, Casal's notes indicate that he notified the court that “if the subject is released without a residence, I will have to place him under the bridge….” Sanchez would be sharing the location, the probation officer added, “with another sex offender that is residing there.” The other offender is not identified, and it's unclear whether there were others before him.

On August 17, 2006, Casal ordered Sanchez under the bridge. But he wasn't acting alone. According to his notes, he informed a probation officer named Ilzee Rabel, who works in Circuit Court Judge Diane Ward's division, of his decision. Whether Ward herself was ever told is unclear. She didn't return several phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment. But one thing is clear: By this past February 9 Casal had visited the site near the child abuse center at least 118 times to enforce Sanchez's curfew.

That's right: the government is requiring people — maybe people who are very not nice, but still people — to be homeless and to sleep under a bridge.

Repeat: the government is requiring people to be homeless and to sleep under a bridge.

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One Response to How Can We Tolerate This?

  1. JayP says:

    This sounds like the first Harry Potter movie, where Harry lived under the stairs at his aunt and uncles house. For the authorities to REQUIRE these people to live under the bridge or report there for so many hours daily must somehow be an unlawful order. Why not the homeless shelter(s)?… from what I heard a few years ago, some of the homeless preferred to live in alleys and on building stairwells anyway, probably creating some vacancy.

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