The Town of Narragansett is faced with a golden opportunity to lead the nation in the battle against discrimination. Comments recently cropping up in the public discussion regarding the student rental problems include the suggestion that students are not a “protected class.” It seems to me that this refers to the classes of people who are protected from various forms of discrimination in this country, and it is cited for the sole purpose of promoting such discrimination. As has often happened with past and current groups assembled to deal with student behavior problems, those groups have sought examples from other cities and towns around the country as support for whatever political goal they seem to have in mind, and the Town Council is then implored to adopt those policies as legitimate.
How do protected classes receive their protection? Clearly from government, and that has to start somewhere. Prior to the days when protected classes began to be recognized in this country, was it legally okay to discriminate against them? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Was it legally okay to discriminate against Blacks, Native Americans and homosexuals before they were granted protected class status? Yes! However, as we look back at those days before protected class status came into being, we now realize that the question of discrimination is not whether it was legal, but whether it was moral.
In this context we now turn to what is going on in Narragansett. There are those who look to other college towns for support for the punitive measures that they propose be taken against other classes of residents and property owners of our town, specifically landlords and tenants. While they may find some precedent and legal authority for discriminating against such groups though excessive regulation, efforts to circumvent constitutional rights and disproportionate tax policy, I ask how does this square with the acknowledged fact that 95% of students and landlords are not causing the town any problems? The critical issue now is whether our Town Council will consider its moral imperative.
Narragansett is on the cusp of a monumental decision. The issue is not what policies other municipalities around the country have adopted, but rather what is right for Narragansett? We have the golden opportunity to say no to any form of municipal discrimination, even if the state or federal government says it is legally okay.
It is time for the Town of Narragansett to abandon old punitive policies that have not worked for the most part and which have done more to divide its citizens than any student party has ever done. Narragansett can continue on its failed path, or it can become an example of how a progressive community can bring various constituencies together to develop and adopt policies to address its problems. First, it must make a strong statement that Narragansett will no longer tolerate policies that discriminate against students, landlords or any other group, and that it will no longer tolerate efforts to re-engineer society as the means to deal with the small percentage who disrupt. There are those who will correctly argue that with rights come responsibilities. But I say, rights must be granted even in the face of some who are not responsible. There is no protected class that was ever 100% “responsible” before its protection against discrimination was granted. The protected class status was granted legally because it was the moral thing to do. Narragansett has a unique opportunity take a positive step forward into a brighter future by leading the pack to create more cohesive communities free of all discrimination.
Raymond S. Kagels