The Good News in Durham

Between news of gun violence, a civil rights lawsuit against our public schools, and reports of unprecedented child poverty in our city, Durham has had its share of bad news this fall. Of course, there is bad news everywhere.

But the bad news never tells the whole story.

Thankfully, good news has been getting some air time in Durham this week.

Back in the spring, I wrote about efforts in Durham to decriminalize begging. Hundreds of people came out for a mass meeting. Dozens stood on our road sides to say that asking for help shouldn’t be a crime. Our City Council listened and members of the community came together to hatch a better plan.

This week, our state paper reported on one part of that plan, which the local courts have already put into play.

“We feel there is a better way to handle your cases than just prosecution,” Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey told the defendants. We’re trying to get you all some services, some help … anything we can do to avoid criminal convictions.” Read more here.

Yesterday, the editors of Durham’s Herald Sun praised the court’s move and encouraged City Council to follow by approving revisions to the anti-begging ordinance that were proposed by the Homelessness Services Advisory Council (HSAC) at the end of the summer.

The courtroom scene Tuesday clearly reflected Durham’s best nature, and the postponement opens the way to move toward a more comprehensive, less punitive approach to dealing with our panhandlers.

We’ve endorsed that approach before, and are pleased it seems to be moving closer to reality.

Council Members will consider the HSAC’s proposed revisions for the first time at their November 7th work session (1pm at City Hall). I’ll be there, and I’d love for as many people as are able to join me.

Why? Because  this good news really is news. A national advocate for the rights of homeless people has told me that if Durham approves these revisions we will be the first city in 30 years to reverse an anti-begging ordinance not because the courts require it, but because the people want it.

I believe we can do this together, and I believe our representatives on Council deserve the full support of the faith community as they move to do what’s right. (If you’re not in Durham, a kind note of support to wouldn’t hurt.) When there is injustice, we cry out and spare not. But when injustice is overturned, we must stand and say just as loudly, “Thank you, Durham. We are becoming the community we pray to be.”

Indeed, we are. Thank you for being part of the change we all want to see.

Want to celebrate with us? On Saturday evening, November 9th, a story-telling event will be held at 7pm at Durham Church. “I Was A Stranger: Real People, Real Stories, Real Hospitality in Durham” will celebrate the welcome that many people have experienced in our city. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Facebook Event Page.

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