Sometimes it seems the biggest difficulty in solving a problem lies in defining it in a useful way. The reactions to Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s decision not to prosecute minor crimes show an instance of this. Every argument I have seen against her cites the dreadful occurrence of public urination. Horrors! How can we not be arresting people for this (”In fighting both crime and odor, cleaning up street corners has its rewards,” July 23)?
If it comes to that, why are we not arresting people for breathing? It would make just as much sense. Physiological processes are going to occur. If people do not have access to toilets, they will do what they have to do because they have no alternative. This is not a criminal problem, but a public health problem.
In the early 20th century, many if not most major cities had public restrooms or “conveniences” widely available. In many cases, there were also public baths so that even people with inadequate living arrangements could at least be clean. This was not only in their best interest but in the general public interest. Good hygiene benefits the entire population.
For reasons unclear but probably related to the usual misguided practice of basing policy on the needs and desires of rich people, those sensible public facilities have almost entirely disappeared in this country. Yet we still have laws on the books to criminalize people for not seeking the privacy not readily available to all. If we really want to limit public urination, the remedy does not lie in enforcing those laws but in providing the needed privacy with public restrooms widely available.
Katharine W. Rylaarsdam, Baltimore
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