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disney's civil rights on ice
oh mickey, you're outside, it's a crime, now do your time, hey mickey
by jeffrey d. walker

What comes to your mind when I say, "Disney"? Perhaps you think of Mickey Mouse. Or Lilo & Stitch. Or maybe you think of Walt's cryogenically frozen body hidden somewhere in Magic Mountain.

But when I think Disney, I think of putting the homeless behind bars.

In downtown Orlando, Florida, the homeless are now subject to arrest if they are caught sitting anywhere in public other than a park bench. What's more, landowners are subject to fines if they own property where the homeless congregate. These have been called the strictest laws in existence regarding the homeless. Orlando, it just so happens, is also the location of Disneyworld.

It's no accident that less than a decade ago, laws preventing the homeless from lingering about were enacted in New York City, precisely where the Disney Corporation was opening a large retail store in Times Square (the area most affected by this legislation). It's no accident because both pieces of legislation pertaining to the homeless came at the behest of the Disney organization.

You may ask yourself: Why would Disney be trying to keep the homeless from remaining in certain areas? The facts seem to indicate that Disney would prefer to "eliminate" these unsavory characters from the areas around which they hope to make profits. A disheveled man in an old blanket asking for change doesn't fit well in the Disney picture.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Homeless? Who cares about them? Hasn't Times Square become a much nicer place in the last decade? What's your problem anyway?"

Listen, I know. I hate being asked for change as much as the next guy. Probably more than the next guy, because I'm fairly petulant. But there's more at issue. Stay with me for a minute here:

People, homeless or not, have long been forbidden from remaining on privately owned property without permission. That's called trespassing. However, public and common areas of a city have traditionally been for public use. Congregating, sitting, even napping in placing like public parks has not been against the law. But today, at least in New York City and Orlando, Florida, these same activities may lead to a jail cell if you are without a home.

Now what you've got is a guy in jail simply because he has no home. Which, no matter what your stance is on homelessness, is a troubling consequence.

Now let me ask you a practical question: How does an officer of the law determine if someone is homeless or not? Are all homeless people identifiable from a distance? (Ok, some, sure. But all of them?). What separates a man in a Florida park sitting on the grass and another man sitting on the same grass man who has no home, and how does a cop approaching a person on the grass tell the difference?

Personally, I'm not sure. Cops don't have time to follow you to your home. They're probably not going to take your word for it. Do you think they'll ask to see a key?

note to Florida homeless shelters: pass out keys to your clientele.

The most feasible method a cop would use, however, would be to ask for identification. So for all intents and purposes, anyone sitting in a public area in Orlando, Florida, other than a park bench, may be subject to proving that they have a place to call home. Which means essentially that anyone in Orlando would be subject to producing identification to a police officer on demand.

And that, my friends, is what you call a violation of civil rights. Forget for a moment that the law targets the homeless; the fact that the law exists now allows an officer to make inquiries about who you are and where you live simply because you've stopped for a while in public (other than a park bench). It's invasive to say the least, and I'm not even going to get started on the implications of fining landowners who permit homeless to remain on their land. There is a whole list of issue tied up in that one, which makes me fairly confident that an appellate level court will soon render that part of the statute invalid. But for the time being, at least in Orlando, Florida, a cop can stop a person resting in a public area to inquire about your current housing status. And all this is because Disney wanted the streets in front of their shop as clean as Main Street in Disneyland.

This isn't to imply that an occupier of land has no interest in the condition of the surrounding neighborhood. I'm sure that I, as a landowner, would be at least slightly concerned about a line of persistent panhandlers around the block. Still, I wonder if the Disney organization even took the time to consider the civil rights implications of the laws as they were pushing them through, or if they just wanted the homeless "out of sight, out of mind."

In a way, I'm not surprised that Disney is manipulating laws to get what they want. For those of you who don't know, Disney has been manipulating laws for years. The copyright laws as they stand today in America were drawn up by Disney (much like the individual frames that make up their cartoons) when the company was faced with losing the rights to some of their beloved characters. The legislation was then passed through congress basically word-for-Disneywritten-word using lots of Disney dollars, allowing profits to be reaped for seventy years past the lifespan of the creator. On Wednesday, October 09, 2002, Disney (along with other media companies) argued before the United States Supreme Court to have the copyright laws extended for an additional twenty years. I mean, we wouldn't want Disney to lose their profitable Mickey Mouse, would we?

But it's a little harder to validate laws that infringe on constitutional rights in the neighborhood next-door to the happiest place on earth.


A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

more about jeffrey d. walker


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evan lipton
10.21.02 @ 9:30a

Well done Jeff... I had had problems with the 20 year tack on to the Copyright laws since Disney got that passed... Disney is no different than any other big Corporation- no matter how cute we all thought that baby Simba was when the monkey raised him up--- wasn't that Benson?!

sigbjørn olsen
10.21.02 @ 1:04p

Coyright laws are a far shot beyond ridiculous... 90 years now aren't they? Quite quite amazing. They are designed to keep the creator of works with the income of their creations for a reasonable amount of time - not to foster long-living gargantuan media companies.

matt morin
10.21.02 @ 1:50p

Honestly, I don't fault Disney at all. I fault the politicians who give in and change the laws. Every big corporation lobbies for changes that'll help its business, and I don't really see anything wrong with that.

If you want to blame someone, blame the politicians who care more about their campaign funds than they do about the voters.

jeffrey walker
10.22.02 @ 12:05a

Evan: I'd rather watch Benson (Robert Guillaume) with Gary Coleman in The Kid from Left Field, or even a re-run of Sportsnight.

Sig: The copyright laws are ridiculous. And, as you know, they push them worldwide. "Listen, I know we aren't citizens of your country or anything, but we've got this paper mouse and, um, if anyone in your country tries to draw or sell a paper mouse like ours, then they have to pay us. Got it?"

And Matt: it's very convenient (and fashionable) to only blame politicians, so I'm not surprised you're doing it. But ignoring the fact that it's the Disney corporation blantantly waving around millions of dollars in order to retain exclusive right to exploit the drawings of a man who died years ago is a lot like condemning a drug addict, while overlooking the dealer who supplied the narcotics. There's duplicitous behavior on both sides of the fence.

robert melos
10.22.02 @ 1:26a

Not to mention Disney is to blame for screwing with the minds of young girls, telling them Prince Charming will eventually come. Sure he will, only he'll probably look more like the Beast, and have the manners of the Beast, and then they end up divorced anyway. Disney never ventures into the "D" word territory, other than "the Parent Trap" and that had a happy ending.

Sorry, off track. Anyway, great article. Corporate America rules the politicians, and overruns the homeless.

juli mccarthy
10.22.02 @ 10:22p

And Disney stops at nothing. I know of a woman who bought baby Disney sheets, cut them up and used the fabric to cover photo albums. Disney sued, and won. She lost her house. I'm all for copyright protection and intellectual property, but that's taking things too far.

jeff wilder
10.22.02 @ 10:52p

I still haven't forgiven Disney for what they did back in 1992. Or more accurately, prior to 1992. In the mid 1980s, they bought the Arvida Homebuilders corporation. Prior to the purchase, Arvida's construction had been good. Once they were bought by the big mouse, the construction became increasingly shoddy. One area built during the Mouse era was an area of Miami called Country Walk. Later on Disney sold Arvida.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew smashed into South Florida. Country Walk was blown to smithereens. Naturally. some investigating was done and and it was discovered that the damage may not have been so severe if there had been better construction. Arvida eventually agreed to pay the homeowners whose houses had been blown into the Atlantic a good amount of money. Yet Disney resorted to its usual legal trickery and maneuverings to avoid any responsibility for the mess.

Now they assume most have forgotten. Well here's a reminder:

Who's the builder of the homes that blow into the sea?
It's not OUR fault your house is gone so sing along with me

daniel castro
10.24.02 @ 4:03p

And I bet you that Disney will try to prolongate the law when the 90 years are up. Guaranteed.

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