Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Friday, June 02, 2006

Is B'ham Safe?

By now everyone has heard about, and is probably forgetting about, the lawyer who was kidnapped from in front of her downtown apartment on Wednesday. The police rescued her later on the same day, and she was relatively unharmed.

So now the issue becomes whether downtown B'ham is safe. It is. You have just as much reason to fear being abducted in the Little Kingdom (for non-locals, that is the Alabama's wealthiest town, the B'ham burb of Mountain Brook) as you do in downtown B'ham.

That does not mean the city center is without problems. Consider the debates over the soon to be begun railroad park:

Balancing the needs of loft dwellers who want to see an urban farm, dog park and, skulling course with the desires of traditional downtown residents who would like to see covered benches, fire barrels, and a plasma center has been difficult.

Or, seriously, this complaint from Edd Dover (related to Ben?), a former resident of the building in which the kidnapped attorney lives:

"In that part of downtown, there's barely any police presence," said Dover, who said he moved out partly because of vandalism and vagrants in that apartment's parking lot. "I'm 6 feet 5, but I was always on guard. There were people in the Dumpster when I'd go take my garbage out, and people asking me for money when I'd walk my dog at 5:30 in the morning. Everybody wants this downtown to succeed, but until they clean it up, it won't work."

The sad fact is that downtown B'ham has a large population of bums. I frequently ride my bike through downtown. Several of my favorite running routes take me through there. I'm an attorney; the courts are downtown. So I see these folks all the time and at all hours of the day.

They are harmless. They may give me a "Hey Lance!" shout when I ride past them. Or tell me how they would be out running with me, but they got this bad knee. Or, when I'm in the lawyer uniform, ask me for money. At no time have I ever felt threatened.

They are well fed. There are several shelters for both men and women. On just about any weekend morning you will see church groups providing food and clothes.

They are also a major annoyance. No-one likes being asked for money, especially by an unkempt stranger. No business owner or condo resident wants to find human excrement in their doorway. Some folks might have a heart attack if they opened their dumpster and found a person. Rightly or wrongly, for these reasons, some people will avoid downtown.

What to do about it? I don't know. Certainly not point fingers and get all high and mighty. Definitely not throw people in jail. Maybe sit down and have a rational discussion so that somehow or another everyone can win.