Thursday, August 4, 2016

Book Confiscation

I came upon an article recently that made me scratch my head.  Back in July, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, police decided it'd be a nifty use of public resources to confiscate books from street vendors shilling for used books(usually donated by someone else).  It seems that these street vendors were selling them without a license, and either local businesses or nosy busybodies decided that this menace to public safety could no longer be tolerated.

I understand the need for licensing of some types of selling.  A restaurant should be inspected so that the government can ensure it is sanitary, and cab drivers should at least have a driver's license.  However, these are done in the interests of public safety.  What's the public safety part of people selling books from tables on the sidewalk?

Many of these street vendors, like Kirk Davidson and Philippe Walstrom, have been doing this for more than 20 years, and it seems this isn't the first time government officials decided that the practice had to be curtailed.  City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said it was necessary to remove the sellers and their wares because they often leave the books out overnight.  Just who is this hurting?  If the books get stolen, doesn't that hurt the seller?  What is the government interest in removing these books and those who sell them?

Perhaps I'm swerving off topic and into something more political, but since this concerns something most of us are passionate about - books - I think I'm still within the boundaries.  When did city regulations outstrip basic things like the First Amendment?  Imagine the uproar if someone had left out Occupy Wall Street Signs or NRA paraphernalia - the cries of censorship would've been deafening.  Yet for some reason folks aren't equating the books and their sales with the First Amendment, despite keeping such things in the public domain being one of the primary reasons for its inclusion in the Bill of Rights.  Further, the Fifth Amendment says that no one shall have private property removed without both due compensation and the legitimate government interest of imminent domain.  But these books were just taken.

It seems likely little more than harassment to me.  Davidson asserts he has 187 summons over his books in 30 years, all of them later dismissed.  It sounds like an awful lot of work and resource use by the police over something that will have no impact on the safety of the public.  I'm sure we can look forward to the news conference from Mayor de Blasio tell us how all of the crime in New York has been solved since police have nothing better to do than try a battle of wills against the nefarious book sellers.

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