Thursday, October 9, 2008

Beacon of Manhood: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

When the skies are darkest and gloom has settled over the whole of the American landscape, in the forms of an unpopular war and a spiraling economic collapse, The Common Man is often most struck by the single rays of light that shine down between the clouds, briefly illuminating one small part of the world and reminding him that, yes, the sun will shine again. One such ray of light is Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

In an Op-Ed piece for the Chicago Sun-Times, Dart announced today that he and his deputies would no longer be evicting tenants from foreclosed-on properties. Dart writes, "Too many times, our deputies arrive at a home to carry out a mortgage foreclosure eviction, only to find a tenant -- dutifully paying their rent each month -- who is unaware their landlord stopped using that rent money to pay the mortgage. They had no fair warning that they were about to be thrown out of their home." The banks, Dart argues, "have done nothing to determine, in advance, who's living in the building -- even though it's required by state law," and in doing so have forfeited their right to have the Cook County Sheriff do their dirty work for them.

Dart acknowledges that his refusal to execute evictions may be against the law and may land him in jail for contempt of court. "If that's the case, I'm willing to accept it though I believe most judges in Cook County share my desire to find a solution for this mess." Dewitt's willingness to suffer the consequences for his actions, and his willingness to violate what he considers to be an unjust law, recalls the struggle of one of America's greatest men, who famously wrote "One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.... One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the consequences. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the consciousness of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."

Now, Dart's actions may be motivated by more than altruism. Indeed, his refusal to evict residents will undoubtedly play well with voters and will turn him into a populist symbol around which to rally. And his refusal to act may pass the responsibility to execute the evictions on to a party who will have less regard for those they are kicking to the curb. However, his willingness to stand up for this cause draws attention to a growing problem in America's metropolitan areas and could lead to government action to alleviate this problem. It is blatantly unfair for landlords to pocket rent checks from their tenants and not pay their own mortgages. And it's not the tenants fault that their landlords are rats. That Dart has identified this inequity and is taking action to alleviate it makes him this week's Beacon of Manhood.

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