Target: Eberhard van der Laan, Mayor of Amsterdam
Goal: Stop sentencing Amsterdam residents to prison-like conditions without first trying them in court
The city of Amsterdam has recently decided to create a series of dismal villages in areas considered wasteland. Their purpose? To house delinquents who have demonstrated anti-social behavior, but have not actually committed crimes. The ‘delinquents’ would be resettled in small units made of shipping containers, their behavior constantly monitored by police and social workers. This policy is a throwback to the era of arbitrary criminal punishment, when kings or local magistrates had the right to pin the label of criminal on a person and punish him or her without bothering to go through with a formal trial.
The idea was first generated by Geert Wilders, the leader of a Dutch right-wing party. One of its goals was to rid the city of delinquents and “put all the trash together” in special locations where they would be isolated from the general population. Wilders has often campaigned that misbehaving immigrants are a plague to Dutch society, so it is no surprise that his “scum villages” have become a convenient way to relocate delinquents to ghettos. Just recently, the resettlement policy was applied to a Roma family of eight.
By resettling misbehaving residents who haven’t been convicted of crimes, the city of Amsterdam is humiliating them and neglecting their right to a fair trial. This non-traditional approach of penalizing citizens for actions that would be classified as misdemeanors is inappropriate. Arbitrarily secluding a person for “bad behavior” is something that is usually done to an unruly child or a highly dangerous and mentally unstable individual, both of whom could hurt themselves, but is degrading and patronizing to a sane fully-functional adult.
But it isn’t only an issue of humiliation; the people condemned to resettlement are simply being deprived of their rights. While it is good that the city has decided to fight back against behaviors such as a noise nuisance and vandalism, removing people from their living environments to live in small, confined units on wasteland outside of the city without first convicting them of a crime is a scandal. If the offenders indeed demonstrate antisocial behavior by being rude and inconsiderate towards their neighbors, either by insulting them, being excessively noisy, or even issuing threats that, while not criminal, create a hostile environment, they should be pursued in court and handed down a sentence. People should only be sent to a prison-like environment if they have been convicted of a crime. When a city resident ends up in a detention unit without first having had the chance to make a case for his or her innocence, then he or she has been deprived of due-process rights .
The bottom line is that confronting antisocial behavior should be part of the legal process in which the accused are given the opportunity to dispute the charges leveled against them. As is, the city is sentencing miscreants to police-supervised detention without giving them the chance to prove their innocence.
Please sign this petition to encourage the city of Amsterdam to preserve the rights of city residents deemed antisocial or threatening by giving them the chance to a trial before sending them to live in prison-like conditions.
Dear Eberhard van der Laan, Mayor of Amsterdam
We understand that the city of Amsterdam seeks to promote a harmonious, peaceful atmosphere by removing threatening individuals from its neighborhoods. That’s why we don’t dispute the fact that individuals who harass their neighbors with rude behavior, excessive noise, and perhaps even threats of violence need to be confronted by law enforcement.
But the need for security should not override the rights of the accused. Forcing people to live in prison-like conditions — in tiny isolated housing units built on wasteland where they will be under constant police surveillance — without first charging them with a crime and giving them the chance to prove their innocence is a violation of their rights to a fair trial. Such punishments should not be handed down arbitrarily by officials but only in courts of law that will give the defendants a chance to tell their side of the story.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Yorick R. via Flickr