Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Get Off the Bus

Posted by Maggie on December 16, 2007

I wrote a few days ago on the lingering effects of a conviction. The fact that one mistake, regardless of its size, can effect every aspect of your life never ceases to amaze me. States all over this country are full of people with criminal records. You probably know someone who has a record but don’t realize it. But governments refuse to treat them normally. They take away their voting privileges and other rights. And now, in Texas, they can’t even get evacuated when a hurricane comes. There will now be criminal background screenings before you get on the evacuation bus.

I was in Texas during Hurricane Rita a few years ago and it was a complete disaster of an evacuation. I don’t see how this will make it better. More than that, I don’t see how it’s possible to conduct a timely background check when people are standing in line to get on a bus. The article doesn’t say this is a response to any incident that’s previously occurred. And given that buses are full of people and people have eyes, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to “vicitmize” a fellow busrider.

This kind of segregation sickens me. It will separate families and put a brand on people. They claim they are after only those with outstanding warrants, sex offenders, and parolees. I’m not sure why they’ve chosen these three groups. If you’re evacuating the jail, what are you going to do with a person with an outstanding warrant? Are local police really going to have time to deal with that in an emergency? My feelings about the prejudices against sex offenders don’t need to be stated again. And why the singling out of parolees versus those on probation? These divisions seem to make little sense. And it still allows all these people to get out of the path of a hurricane on their own without a bus, which still means you may have a lot of people who don’t come back, which was a problem with Rita and Katrina.

Oh, and a legal “expert” checks in at the end of The Houston Chronicle’s story on the issue. A law professor at South Texas claims the public safety needs outweigh privacy concerns. I am still asking what the public safety issue really is. Separate is not equal, and if everyone’s entitled to an evacuation, parolees and sex offenders are, too. I’m wondering when they’ll get their chance to be evacuated and where they’ll be taken. Perhaps they’ll be sent out of harm’s way and locked in a cell until the storm passes. We have no way of knowing, the Texas Department of Emergency Management refuses to give details.

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