In Some Towns, Battered Women Are Threatened With Eviction

Depending on where you live, a call to 911 for domestic violence can lead to eviction and even arrest for being a 'nuisance'! The ACLU is challenging that.

Imagine being a domestic violence victim who is routinely stalked and beaten by a former boyfriend. Imagine being that same victim and trying to work and raise a three-year old daughter, while living in HUD Section 8 approved housing.

Now imagine being that same victim and being threatened with eviction because your ex-boyfriend's penchant for beating the crap out of you whenever he felt like it was considered to be a "nuisance" for which your landlord was held partly responsible. Because your landlord was held partly responsible, your landlord also has the right to evict you if that nuisance thing gets in his way.

This is what happened to Pennsyvania resident Lakisha Briggs. By her landlord's own admission, she paid her rent on time and didn't cause any trouble. That's true, she didn't. But her ex-boyfriend was trouble any time he came around, and that trouble led her down a path of near-eviction:

Yes, that's right. The police threatened Ms. Briggs with eviction because she had received their assistance for domestic violence. Under Norristown's "disorderly behavior ordinance," the city penalizes landlords and tenants when the police respond to three instances of "disorderly behavior" within a four-month period. The ordinance specifically includes "domestic disturbances" as disorderly behavior that triggers enforcement of the law.

After her first "strike," Ms. Briggs was terrified of calling the police. She did not want to do anything to risk losing her home. So even when her now ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick, she did not call. And later, when he stabbed her in the neck, she was still too afraid to reach out. But both times, someone else did call the police. Based on these "strikes," the city pressured her landlord to evict. After a housing court refused to order an eviction, the city said it planned to condemn the property and forcibly remove Ms. Briggs from her home. The ACLU intervened, and the city did not carry out its threats, and even agreed to repeal the ordinance. But just two weeks later, Norristown quietly passed a virtually identical ordinance that imposes fines on landlords unless they evict tenants who obtain police assistance, including for domestic violence.

You can read the full text of the lawsuit here (PDF). It's not unique to Norristown, PA. A similar law was passed in Providence, Rhode Island last year. After an outcry from domestic violence groups, the mayor promised to amend the law to exclude victims of domestic violence. That's one city. Many others don't really care. They're more interested in conserving police resources and if that means a few women lose their homes, oh well.

Women in general, yes. But more often than not, it's not simply women in general. It's poor women of color. This recent study confirms the frequency that women of color in poor neighborhoods are likely to receive a nuisance citation from police rather than the protection they deserve.

A recent study of Milwaukee's nuisance ordinance showed that domestic violence was the third most common reason that police issued a nuisance citation, far above drug, property damage, or trespassing offenses. The study also established that enforcement of the ordinance disproportionately targeted African-American neighborhoods. The result? Women of color, like Ms. Briggs, were less able to access police protection.

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the city of Norristown. If successful, cities across the country would have to amend their nuisance laws to exclude calls for domestic violence. I would think this is a no-brainer. It's unthinkable that a law put on the books to deal with noisy parties and drug dealers is capturing battered women in the net and victimizing them again.

As things progress, I'm certain efforts will be made on the right-hand side of blogging and news to demonize this woman for whatever they can dig up on her. They should rot for that. Domestic violence toward anyone -- male, female, white, black or otherwise -- is a worm that eats society from the inside out. No city or police department should be punishing the victims.

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