by Mel Griffith
Ms. Jane Howard, who lived in east Cleveland, was recently killed in an auto accident on Benton Pike, reportedly not her fault. I did not know Ms. Howard, though I saw her appear before the County Commission several times. Most of you did not know her either, but you should know something about her last years. You should know that the last years of her life were made miserable by relentless harassment by Bradley County building and environmental bureaucrats.
No one questions that her house and yard were in deplorable condition, that is not the important question. The important question is whether, in a supposedly free country that is supposed to respect private property rights her property was anybody's business except hers. Instead of being able to enjoy, to whatever extent she could, her own property, on which the taxes were fully paid, she was faced with the constant threat that the government that was supposed to protect her was instead going to render her homeless by demolishing her house. Do the bureaucrats who visited this injustice on her now feel proud that they were able to make a harmless old lady miserable for the rest of her life? Do the Commissioners who passed this unnecessary and unjust law in pursuit of some vague goal of civic improvement sit in church and gloat at trampling on individual rights? Do the nosy neighbors who demand that Ms. Howard be harassed now feel proud that they spent their time meddling in Ms. Howard's business instead of minding their own?
Of course, everyone involved can explain that this tragedy wasn't their fault. Nobody wants to take responsibility for injustice. The enforcers will explain that they really had no choice because they were only following the letter of the law. That's a familiar explanation. Six million Jews got exterminated in strict accordance with the law. Whole villages in Iraq got gassed to death through no fault of those who actually did it because they were following orders. the execution of Christ was done in strict accordance with Roman law. When the letter of the law becomes more important than right and wrong we have lost our way. We should remember that this unjust law was not forced on Bradley County by any state federal mandate, unlike some of the other stupid things we do. This regulation was passed voluntarily by the Bradley County Commission in a misguided effort to make Bradley County a nicer and prettier place. The prophet Micah, after scolding leaders for building up the glory of Jerusalem by mistreating the people asked "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and love kindness?" Is it just and kind to tear down the houses of helpless people?
Ms. Howard was not very cooperative with those who wished to adjust her lifestyle to suit their tastes. This seemed to trigger a "win at any cost" response in some of those involved, a desire to make an example of Ms. Howard and prove that they were powerful enough to do as they pleased with the property of others and that no opposition would be tolerated. This situation has been a sorry chapter in the history of Bradley County but it is unlikely to be the last of its kind unless the public demands that county government show the respect it should for the rights of property owners.