Mall: Home away from... wherever.

There's been some talk lately around a recent Washington Post article about the 'crackdown' on homeless at the Columbia Mall

Local blogs on both sides weighed in, both as to why this might be reasonable, and why this was possibly wrong.

Today, HoCoMoJo posted an interview with Katie Essing, general manager of the Mall, and they brought up some interesting points. She emphasized that the policy focuses on behavior and an acceptable code of conduct. The process of rule 'education' and enforcement sounds pretty reasonable in this interview - and she surprised me by admitting there were times when security might have acted inappropriately (in general terms).

I didn't blog about this, though I did read the article and some of the responses. And I'm pretty much blogging about it now because I have some thoughts, after the Mall's response - not because I suddenly feel qualified to do so. 

To be honest, I thought a lot of the interview rang like non-specific damage control. 

Example: Essing hemmed and hawed about specific question in which a commenter on Tale of Two Cities mentioned seeing people literally washing themselves (bathing, so to speak) in the bathroom at 9am. When Bittner asked her if that was a violation of conduct, this was her response.

"Well, that would be a tough one. . . . I think it would be a determination of is it a normal use of the bathroom, you know, or is it crossing a line where it would make other guests feel uncomfortable."

To me, that's sort of like the age old question: if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?  Or, if someone's offended by a joke, is that what makes it inappropriate? 

Just sayin'.

She did go on to say that it was a behavior she would want reported to security. It just seemed strange that, if there is a code of conduct in the mall, that a case like this wouldn't be a clear decision. It seems to boil down to two things: making patrons comfortable, and the fact that the mall is private property.

The interview did not address the allegation made by the WaPo reporter that he was ejected from the premises, and I was surprised that the interview didn't address that at all. Was his behavior in violation of the mall's code of conduct?

"A few minutes later, security guards appeared and ordered a Washington Post reporter to leave the grounds. One guard said interviewing people without permission constituted solicitation and warned that police would charge the reporter with criminal trespassing if summoned."

Good thing he didn't try to bathe.

The article includes a take on the ejection from the ACLU:
Deborah A. Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland said that although malls are private property, owners do not have an unfettered right to ban people.
"Anybody who's committing a crime could be removed from the property," said Jeon, who helped resolve a dispute over homeless persons' access to shopping centers in Baltimore and Cecil counties. "But people who have legitimate business there and aren't doing any harm, getting a cup of coffee or talking to a friend - there's no reason the mall should be interested in removing such people."

I am glad to hear that the Mall is trying to work with nonprofits that assist the homeless and recognize the challenges this population faces during the winter, especially. I'm sure that their job is not easy. Still, was the Post reporter truly being disruptive, or was the Mall trying to avoid embarrassment?

I would consider that a legitimate question. But that's just my opinion. (hocoblogs@@@)

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