Thursday, July 06, 2006

European Travelogue, Part 2: The Dance of the Hypocrites, or Unenforced Laws

A thought occurred to me while in Florence a week ago: why does the "grey" zone exist in law? By this, I mean a law that is routinely flaunted, known to be so by law-enforcement agents and politicians, and the flaunting actively tolerated, but the law is never rescinded. In Canada, this is most vividly present in our marijuana laws. In many countries in southeast Asia, it applies to laws regarding gay sex (especially where tourists are involved). In Italy, it seems to apply to the sale of fraudlent merchandise.

Essentially, this is what goes on in the heart of Florence. Along every major street in the pedestrian core, dozens of African immigrants sell knock-off handbags and sunglasses on the street. The handbags are laid out on sheets, the sunglasses on collapsible cardboard. Every 15-20 minutes, a pair of carabinieri officers will come strolling, or driving down the streets, the sheets will be drawn together around the handbags, and the cardboard sheets folded up, and the officers will walk past a row of vendors holding their sheets. Nobody is arrested or spoken to most of the time. After the officer moves on, the commercial activity begins again.

Despite signs indicating that the purchase of fradulent items is illegal, tourists flock to these vendors, purchasing large numbers of them - which makes one think that this is "unofficially" considered a key part of the local tourist economy. But it means that these vendors, although de facto allowed to continue their business, are constantly under threat of arrest. One can only imagine what this means in terms of their sense of personal security.

I find this failure to enforce the law to be entirely hypocritical. If a law is not important enough to enforce, it should be removed from the books. It hardly seems just to punish a few random offenders, yet not only not seek out others, but to actively ignore activity which is blatantly occuring. I admit that I'm happier to have obsolete or unjust laws remain unenforced, but it would be far better if more lawmakers had the courage to revise statutes and by-laws, rather than allowing these grey zones to continue.

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