Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Cry for Calm and End to Racial Tensions in the Aftermath of Charleston Shooting

In the aftermath of the shooting deaths of nine churchmembers last week in Charleston, South Carolina, I felt compelled to address some of the comments I have heard and read recently and to remark on some of my own experiences there.

There is no excuse for what happened. Dylann Roof's actions were simply murder, regardless of what they may or may not have been motivated by or what anyone else is saying about it. If he did intend to ignite racial tensions, I remain hopeful that he failed. I grew up in an overwhelmingly white area of southern Ohio and remember hearing from time to time, even from my own family members. snide comments and derogatory terms about black people. I have strived to overcome such racist mentality and hope that I have suceeded. Sometimes I wish we were all colorblind because the color of our skin should not determine how we are treated.

Neverthless, calls for removal of the Confederate flag from the state house, and similar outcries, may be misplaced. I know that statement may not be easy to swallow for some, but let me explain my thoughts on this. The American Civil War is an indelible part of our nation's history. It can't be rewritten, no matter how distasteful it was or how uncomfortable it makes us feel now a hundred and fifty years later. Just like other historical events including the intial slave trade, world wars, atomic bombs, these things are part of our past. Putting your head in the sand and pretending that life was different is not a viable option. Should the Confederate flag be relegated to merely a symbol of hate and racism? To do so, in my opinion, would detract from our nation's history as a whole as well as from the lives of each person who fought for his beliefs or way of life, and their families. No, I do not and could never condone slavery or the mistreatment of entire peoples based solely on a physical trait, but neither can I say that removing the Conferedate flag would be an end to racism. We have a lot further to go than that. Work on the issues rather than a symbol.

Make no mistake, there are issues on both sides of the table. There are certainly white people who are racists toward blacks and other minorities. There are also blacks who are racist against whites and sometimes other minorities as well. It seems like every time there is a news story about racial violence, certain well known people come out of the woodwork and start rabblerousing the public. I'm certainly not saying that unjustified shootings and mistreatment by the police should be ignored. It should not. What I don't understand though is why people who are supposedly clergy just like to stir the pot rather than try to fix anything. Perhaps it is because they fear becoming obsolete. Without racial tensions, they have nothing to do. Conversely, why does it appear that so many police officers appear to use unwarranted force at times? Likewise, why do some people insist on resisting law enforcement unnecessarily? I know that if a cop told me to stop whatever I was doing, I would. Some of the incidents and participants thereof just beg for trouble, but that doesn't give an officer the right to overstep. And no amount of senseless looting of stores and businesses can be accepted as meaningful in any way. That's just pure criminal activity. There has to be education by our citizens, by our elected officials, and by our law enforcement.

One particular item I heard in the news concerns the judge that was to hear Roof's case in court. Back in 2003 in an unrelated matter, the judge said, "There are four kinds of people in this world - black people, white people, red necks, and n--------." For that comment and an act of favoritism he showed toward a fellow judge, he was reprimanded by the South Carolina Supreme Court. That was 12 years ago. I haven't heard that this judge has done anything similar since. Nevertheless, he has been removed from this case. Fair? The right thing to do in the circumstances? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. I do know that until we start forgiving the past, we will struggle in the present and in the future. Young children do not know racism. It is learned. Unfortunately, it is often taught by the very people who should want better for all children - parents, clergy, politicians. 

I lived and worked in Charleston, South Carolina for a year and a half, about 14 years ago. I had never set foot in the state until I moved there. I had visions of the old South and wasn't disapointed in that regard. Magnificent houses, colorful people, and just a little different than the normal, every day city in the United States. The Confederacy had appeared to linger on in this part of the country. The city is full of historical sites related to the Civil War - after all, the first shots were fired here. The armory, the fort, the cannons by the waterfront. It was all very fascinating to me at the time.

Of course, I also experienced a not so good part of Charleston. Like it or not, such an historical city seemed very closed off to me in many ways from a social and professional perspective. While just about everyone generally displayed good manners, it was all a bit stand-offish at times. Who you knew often determined where you went and what you did, and with whom. I did work with some well connected people that allowed me a glimpse, but I didn't stay in Charleston long enough to be part of high society in the Low Country, as the area is known. I also had a close friend, now deceased, who showed me the back parts of town and told me stories of days past. There are many good things about the area and the people who live there, and I am lucky to still have a few friends in the area.

Charleston, like many other American cities, now has to face the ugliness of racism head-on. But let this be a meaningful discussion with goals in mind and calm by all participants. Dylann Roof was an individual. He is the one who committed the terrible crime of murder. It is not Charleston or the old South or even the Confederate flag that should be on trial here while we strive to be a better country and humans.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Property Rights of Tenants During Foreclosure

It is not uncommon for a home in foreclosure to be occupied by renters rather than the homeowner(s). So what rights do tenants in Florida have in this situation. Historically, they basically had no rights. When the property was sold at public auction, the property had to be vacated by the homeowner and tenant alike. That changed with the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009

This federal law permitted renters with a lease to remain in the property until the expiration of their lease. That period was reduced to just 90 days if the new owner intended to occupy the residence. For those renters leasing mont-to-month, they were permitted to remain in the property for at least 90 days after notice by the new owner. 

Sounds great, right? Well, it was, but unfortunately the Act contained a "sunset" provision which meant it would expire at a certain date unless extended by the United States Congress. The sunset date listed in the Act was December 31, 2014. Congress did not extend the Act and thus renters no longer have the protection of this federal law. A handful of states has enacted similar legislation, but Florida is not one of them as of today, though there has been some effort at doing so. In addition, the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2015 has been proposed in Congress, which would amend the federal Act to eliminate the sunset date and make the Act permanent. Again, thus far, it has not been passed.

For the time being, renters must know that if the house they are living in is foreclosed, they are practically in the same boat as the homeowner once the property is sold - none. Pack up and move, as quickly as you can, to avoid potential financial and legal liabiilty.

Timothy C. Martin, Esq. is the owner/attorney of Martin Law Office, P.A., a solo practitioner law firm in St. Petersburg, Florida. Martin Law's practice areas include Animal Law, Business Law, Estate Planning/Probate, LGBT Advocacy, and Real Estate.