The city of Las Vegas wants to ban me from watching kids in a public playground. Yep. I'm one of those troublemakers. Clearly a pervert who must be stopped, even jailed.
For me, it's a joy to watch kids play, to see them laugh and giggle and face the terrors of a slide, to watch their faces as they steel themselves for the moment when they actually start their slide and learn to face danger. I wish I had more time to watch kids play in parks.
However, city officials want to block me and anybody else over 12 from watching kids romp in a park playground unless we're there with a "legal" kid. Really. Someone drawing a city salary thought this up.
And nobody had the guts to tell that person: Are you crazy? Or perhaps a more subtle: There might be some constitutional problems with your idea.
The proposed ordinance says if you don't have an authentic kid with you, anyone over 12 can't be within 100 feet of a children's playground. It's a playground buffer zone. No exceptions. Not even an older person just having fun.
Ridiculous, you say? Of course it is.
You and I pay for those park playgrounds. We shouldn't have to rent a kid in order to go to them. And the thought of kids over 12 being banned from playgrounds is absurd.
It's pretty obvious what city officials are up to. This is clearly the full employment act for the American Civil Liberties Union, which will add this to its growing list of Las Vegas ordinances worthy of challenging in federal court.
The real story, however, is that this ordinance is a ruse. It's really just another legal tool to roust the homeless from city parks. So what if it means passing an ordinance that makes lawbreakers of the rest of us.
The reality is: Nobody is going to cite me for watching a kid in a park. But put a homeless woman or homeless man on that same bench, and watch how fast the city marshals write that ticket.
Can you say "selective enforcement"?
Homeless advocate Linda Lera-Randle El sees daily the difference in how such ordinances are selectively enforced in Las Vegas, particularly downtown. "You could do a flip and sit in the middle of the street," she said. "You wouldn't get ticketed."
But a homeless person who is halfway in the middle of the street when the light changes will get nailed. Then City Attorney Brad Jerbic's office argues for the maximum time in jail.
The children's park buffer zone proposal goes June 5 to a recommending committee to see whether it should go to a full vote of the council. The smart thing would be to kill it now because the federal courts are likely to kill it later. U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones in January found the ordinance prohibiting anyone from feeding the indigent unconstitutional. (ACLU: umpteen; city: zero.)
On June 11, Jones will hear arguments on that and three other city ordinances used to restrict the homeless from using city parks, including the children only parks, requirements for permits and the trespassing citations city marshals use to ban people from parks for six months.
ACLU's general counsel Allen Lichtenstein is correct when he said this new proposed ordinance "is a bad idea that makes no sense whatsoever."
What self-respecting pervert is going to be deterred by a 100-foot buffer zone?
"All it does is restrict law-abiding people," Lichtenstein said. "It's a preposterous ordinance that does nothing to make anybody safe."
An ordinance to protect children sounds good, even if it's meaningless.
Karen Goyne, director of Detention and Enforcement, proposed the ordinance, which would make me guilty of a misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for watching kids in a park without one in tow. She wasn't available earlier this week to defend it.
The children's playground buffer zone fails on three levels. First, it's silly. Second, it's impractical. Third, it won't stop crime against children.
At what point is the city going to come up with real answers for our real homeless problem and quit relying on silly subterfuge?
Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.