Posted by richard on July 19, 2000 at 22:45:26:
07/19/2000 - Wednesday - Page A 6
Citizens, Not Dogs, Own the Sidewalks
"While we have no argument with 'responsible' dog owners, we are
also well aware that a significant number of arrogant, inconsiderate
and defensive dog owners leave their buildings at least twice a day
and rather than head for the curb, they go directly to the nearest
sidewalk. The result? Little kids play in the dog urine, trees and plantings die,
and handsome granite becomes ugly with continuous staining. We don't believe
there is a sane person who is not disgusted by the ugly sites and smells of dog
waste." This statement was issued by Gabe Sumner and Michael Steven Smith,
citizens of this city, and was first published in the weekly "Battery Park City
Broadsheet," one of the only imaginative things in town. Suddenly, it is being
reread and discussed in widening circles of the city.
Recently, a man from Northern Boulevard in Flushing reacted to it, and wrote
this on a postcard: "I am in a wheelchair. Why am I forced to push through
puddles of dog urine? I use my hands a lot. Do I have to put them in dog urine?"
Rather than an attack on dogs, these writings are a defense by citizens of their
rights. And then the other day the issue was magnified dramatically in criminal
court, 100 Centre St., Manhattan, when a most improbable leader was forged in
the heat and harshness of the role of defendant.
The man, Jack Smith, formerly of Ridgewood, Queens, had been busted for
urinating in public.
"They threw me out of the saloon and wouldn't let me back. I told them I had to
go. They told me to get lost. Then I went in the street; what am I supposed to
do, wet myself in public?" After wasted hours and a fine in court, Smith decided
to forget the whole thing in a movie. He was at Broadway and 68th Street when
on the street corner a man with what appeared to be a timber wolf on a leash
stopped as the dog urinated. People meekly walked around the dog.
Simultaneously, the urine leaked along the sidewalk to the tips of Jack Smith's
shoes. Common sense made him step back. It also caused him to let out a loud
and immediate citizen's holler: "I just got arrested for doing that," he shouted at
the dog owner. "The dog should get arrested too! And you ought to go with
him." He had a half hour before show time, which he spent walking up and
down streets that, at times, had more dogs than people. And all dogs were
staining the cement.
"What do you call this?" he said several times to dog owners. Then he stepped
out to a patrol car.
"Officer, bust that mutt!" The cops looked at him and shrugged.
"What if I do that?" Jack persisted.
"You get arrested," the cop said.
"Then what about these people? What about them?" The cop said there is no city
law against dogs urinating in public.
But as he was stepping back onto the sidewalk, the anger of the moment
produced a thought that was glistening with originality and plausibility.
"If the dogs don't get in trouble going on the sidewalk, then how can they arrest
a guy for doing the same thing?" he said.
"If anybody gets busted for urinating in the street, they should plead not guilty.
All you want is the same as a dog gets. If the dog can go on Jack Smith's shoes,
then let Jack Smith go all over both feet of the dog owner." Without question,
Smith has started something that goes far beyond street banter. His demand for
equal protection under the law is irrefutable. Like anything new and sensible, it
comes out of the dreariest of atmospheres: Among things Jack Smith is not, is a
city treasure. But it is always this way. You ought to look up this fellow Miranda
some time. Even a conservative U.S.
Supreme Court justice said the Miranda law is part of American life forever.
And today, on New York sidewalks, Jack Smith might be our Miranda.
He is not against dogs. He is not some cramped creature who wants to pick up
your Pekingese and throw him in front of a bus. Jack Smith even pets dogs.
But he is against dog urine and arrogant dog owners. If there is no law to
prevent dogs urinating on the sidewalks, there could be ordinances requiring dog
owners to come out on the street carrying sponges or a bucket of water when
walking with their animals. Many people walk with two, three or more dogs.
They best rent a fire truck. Or they can hire somebody to trot behind them
sloshing water. If dog walking is an occupation, then let sidewalk drying
become one, too.
Of course there can be no set of circumstances that can allow a man urinating
on the streets to be arrested while dogs are allowed to go free. You wait and see,
the arrest of Jack Smith for public urinating when they wouldn't let him back in
the bar will be a monument to citizen activity. It also might change the way dog
owners strut about with their animals on the sidewalks of New York that
taxpayers have built.
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