Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Potemkin Would be Proud

November 3rd, 2011 · 3 Comments

There’s a terrific old episode of Cops—yes, Cops—in which the Miami police round up a bunch of streetwalkers in advance of Super Bowl XXIX. What’s so surprising about the operation is how up front the police are about their objective—namely, to present the game’s attendees with a prostitute-free version of the city. In the episode’s final shot, a police sergeant stares into a paddy wagon full of handcuffed ladies and says, “Your detention will last until the day after the Super Bowl.” Points for honesty, I guess, though certainly not for respect for the rule of law.

Cops in Durban, South Africa, are now up to similar shenanigans in advance of an upcoming climate conference. Their targets are not prostitutes, but rather the homeless denizens of the city’s beaches:

Beggars said they had been told to get lost or they would be dumped “in the middle of nowhere” or locked in a crowded cell for the duration of COP17.

“They’re coming for us,” said beachfront beggar Martin van der Westhuizen. “A few of my friends have already disappeared and I hear a lot of us are being locked up.”

He said it was common for authorities to crack down on beggars before big events. The beachfront and area around the International Convention Centre (ICC) were prime targets. “They round us up and take us out of the city to Umlazi or Verulam and drop us in the middle of nowhere. Then we have to walk back,” he said.

Another beggar said that event banners going up around Durban’s ICC were usually a sign for beggars to get lost. “When visitors are coming, the police clean up the beachfront and other places where the people go. They throw us in the truck and tell us to voetsek. They tell us we’re dirty and the tourists don’t want to see our ugly faces,” said a beggar called Enoch.

The logic of such crackdowns seems facile, to say the least. Is the global elite really unaware that large cities have homeless populations? Are they so sensitive to the solicitations of the unfortunate that they must be shielded from reality? It would be one thing if the cops’ targets were posing an actual security threat to the conference. But as far as I can tell, this is simply an attempt to make the attendees’ experience in Durban 0.00001 percent more pleasant.

I’m open to persuasion, of course. Can anyone point me toward a study regarding the economic benefits of such crackdowns? Tough for me to envision how Miami’s fortunes were changed by presenting a prostitute-free Super Bowl XXIX, but I guess anything is possible.

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