TCS Daily

The Zimbabwe of New England

By Ilya Shapiro - July 5, 2005 12:00 AM

NEW LONDON, CONNECTICUT (AP)* -- More than 200 international human rights and civic groups called on the Organization of American States and the United Nations to stop the United States government from destroying the homes and livelihoods of poor city dwellers.

The groups, including Amnesty International and Belarussian Lawyers for Human Rights, sent out smuggled videotapes of banned FOX News footage showing hundreds of thousands of people on the move after state troopers and National Guardsmen bodily evicted them and bulldozed their homes in economically under-developed areas across the country -- like this one in central Connecticut. (Police prevent journalists from filming the demolition campaign, so the video was collected clandestinely.) In a joint statement Sunday, the groups said the campaign known as Operation Private Property for Public Use, was "a grave violation of international human rights law and a disturbing affront to human dignity."

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe hailed the drive as an urban renewal initiative, defending the policy being pursued by state and local governments across the country as "a fine example of America finally seeing the wisdom of how we do things elsewhere in the world."

President Bush, in a terse statement issued by his spokesman, disavowed the African dictator's support but stated that the federal government was only enforcing the Supreme Court's recent 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London, which authorized the public "taking" of private property for "carefully considered" development plans. The Justice Department had earlier declined to intervene in the case.

"We must respect the judgment of the Supreme Court even when we don't fully understand its constitutional interpretation," the President was quoted as saying. "As Justice Stevens wrote, we must defer to the good judgment of local officials, just as we recognize the interstate commerce inherent in -- and hence federal jurisdiction over -- the growing of potted plants." (The latter was apparently a reference to an earlier court decision, Raich v. Gonzales, which affirmed the federal government's authority to outlaw medicinal marijuana. Raich rested largely on an old case confirming the government's right to regulate wheat that a farmer was growing for his personal use during the New Deal.)

The number of people affected by the wave of land seizures and transfers -- which are expected to bring financially strapped communities and debt-ridden state treasuries millions in increased tax revenues -- is conservatively estimated at least 300,000 people, while the United Nations puts the figure as high as 1.5 million. (The U.S. Conference of Mayors only acknowledges about 120,000.)

In addition, over 42,000 merchants have been arrested, fined, or had their goods confiscated, according to police figures, many of them "mom-and-pop shops" that state governments have accused of sabotaging local economies. In Fort Trumbull, a New London neighborhood, residents said in the news footage that they were being forced from homes that had been in their families for generations, and that local politicians had promised them during the last election cycle would never be turned over to Wal-Mart and Circuit City (among the beneficiaries of the mass-scale condemnations). Those who did not leave on their own said they were driven in trucks to a patch of wilderness on the outskirts of Hartford, the state capital, where they were shown building makeshift shelters in the brush.

"We were dumped here by people with legal papers," said one young man, whose name was not released for fear of retribution as he squatted in a Kennedyville (as these shanty towns have been named, after the Justice who provided the deciding vote in Kelo).

When lawyers tried to get emergency injunctions to block the nationwide evictions, district courts, extrapolating from the Supreme Court's precedent, ruled that the evictions were justified because residents had made improvements to their properties without prior government approval. "Even when we lost Kelo, we never imagined it would come to this," said Dana Berliner of the Institute for Justice, America's leading public interest law firm specializing in property rights.

The evictions continue even as the government claims it is taking steps to provide alternative accommodation for the displaced, the rights groups explained at a series of news conferences across America and at the United Nations.

"This is part of an ongoing pattern of blatant disregard of human rights in that country," added Dominique de Villepin, the French Prime Minister. "We think that a strong case can be made that what is happening here amounts to a crime against humanity."

Ilya Shapiro a Washington lawyer, last lauded America's plethora of cultures while assailing multi-culturalism.

* To see the article upon which this one is based, see here.


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