Sunday, November 26, 2006

Day laborers free to crowd streets

Culture: As Judge Colleen McMahon says stop being so mean.

WHITE PLAINS, Nov. 20 — A federal judge ruled Monday that officials in Mamaroneck discriminated against Hispanic day laborers when they stepped up police patrols, closed a hiring site and aggressively fined contractors who approached the laborers on the streets as they searched for work. In a 70-page decision, Judge Colleen McMahon of Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York wrote that “the fact that the day laborers were Latinos, and not whites, was, at least in part, a motivating factor in the defendants’ actions.” Judge McMahon said the police often ignored infractions by other drivers, including those who blocked traffic while picking up children in school, but adopted a “virtual zero-tolerance policy” toward contractors in a concerted effort to drive them away, making it harder for the day laborers to find work.
It could be just me, but I see a difference between picking up your kids from school and people blocking traffic and creating an unsafe area going after contractors looking for cheap labor.
The ruling is at least the third legal victory this year for day laborers. Last week, officials in Freehold, N.J., agreed to allow laborers to seek work in public places without being subjected to fines, putting an end to a three-year court battle. In May, a federal judge prohibited the police in Redondo Beach, Calif., from arresting laborers for violating an ordinance against soliciting work on the streets. At the trial, Mamaroneck officials characterized the enforcement at a park, a parking lot and on the streets where the workers congregate as a response to residents’ complaints. .....Mayor Trifiletti and Chief Flynn, along with the village, are defendants in the lawsuit. Both declined to comment, but Mr. Plunkett, the village’s lawyer, said that he was “disappointed” in the decision and added that Judge McMahon took “the good intentions of the police chief and village board to address a community problem and turned it into racial animus.” Judge McMahon ordered Mamaroneck to pay the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ fees. During testimony, some of the workers accused police officers of using harsh words and gestures to order them to move, behavior that Judge McMahon denounced. The judge also admonished the comments of one village trustee, who compared the workers to “locusts” who “come in here and take, and won’t give back to the community.” “Whether or not they are predicated on stereotypes, the claims and comments made by public officials about the day laborers who plied the streets of Mamaroneck looking for work were negative and stigmatizing,” she wrote. “That is some evidence of racism.”
Does she have evidence to back up this claim? If they were black or white people gathering in the area, the officials and residents who complained would have been motivated still by racism or just the fact this sort of activity would drag down a community reputation? What were these harsh words and gestures that made the workers, some illegal so traumatized? It looks like a losing battle for communities who want to uphold sort of standard of living in their areas with these judges.

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