Thursday, August 5, 2010

Respect for the Law?

TAB reporter John Hilliard and his colleagues had fun this week putting some of the odder town bylaws to the test.  ("Exploring the banana peel bylaw (and more forbidden fun) in Brookline," August 5th).

Hilliard and crew batted a ball near Town Hall, played cards at the curbside, even dropped a banana peel on the sidewalk (not to mention dressing up in a banana costume and lying down in the street). And they got away with it, despite the fact that all of these--well maybe not the banana costume--are forbidden under town law.

But Hilliard and crew are hardly the first to be bemused by some of the no-nos on the books in Brookline.  Back in 1921, the celebrated Brookline-born poet Amy Lowell joined fellow townspeople to protest a range of bylaws they said couldn't and shouldn't be enforced.

Amy Lowell article, Boston Globe
Boston Globe, December 22, 1921
Among the targets of Lowell and other protesters were laws or proposed laws against the following:
  • playing ball in the streets;
  • the drawing of sleds on public footpaths or sidewalks;
  • unrestricted use of velocipedes (bicycles) and roller skates;
  • the playing of musical instruments by anyone other than the member of a regularly organized band without a permit from the chief of police;
  • parking an automobile in any one place for more than 20 minutes;
  • horses traveling at more than eight miles per hour (at a time when automobiles were limited to 10 miles per hour);
  • the use of ungrammatical language by a driver in addressing a horse.
"Are we going to allow this overregulation when it isn't necessary," said Lowell [as reported by the Boston Globe]. "Are we going to make all our children criminals when they are not criminals.  Are we going to be entirely officialized?"

In the end some of the bylaws were modified, other were dropped, and others were let go with promises of lax enforcement, not so different, it seems, from today.

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