IF YOU let Rover do his duty on the sidewalk and fail to scoop up the pungent results, you're probably looking at a nice fat fine.
But if it's you who yields to Mother Nature in Rittenhouse Square, you'll likely get away with it - if one Philly police officer has his way.
To paraphrase the anonymous prince of the city, relieving yourself in public is apparently a "right." As quoted in a story that appeared on Philly.com on Wednesday morning, the badge-wearing civil libertarian said of the Rittenhouse campers that "you have to worry about violating their rights . . . the rich people want you to do things that normal people won't ask you to do, and a lot of cops have hard feelings about that."
Well, then, count me among the abnormal. I'd have no problem whatsoever asking that someone who'd just defecated or urinated or fornicated in a public park be moved to a place where people with self-control won't have to deal with him. Defecating, urinating, fornicating and, for that matter, bathing, cursing or wandering wild-eyed through the streets are not fundamental rights. They are nuisances - or immediate public dangers.
So the Police Department is justified in assigning additional officers to patrol Rittenhouse Square after residents complained about the increasingly aggressive homeless population that's taken up residence in the park. Despite what Officer X might think, it's not their playpen.
But, you say, these are human beings. Where is the compassion for people who have fallen on hard times and find themselves forced to live in the margins of our heartless society? Don't the police have better things to do than to terrorize the homeless?
Yes, and no. It's true that there aren't enough shelters to address the demand. It's true that some of those who live on the streets are not there by choice. And that murderers trump vagabonds as Public Enemy No. 1.
But does that mean we have to give a pass to people who are ruining a public amenity for everyone else? When then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani set out to clear Manhattan of the homeless under the broken-window theory, New Yorkers saw a marked increase in their quality of life and a decrease in petty crime.
But there's something else at work here, something that has nothing to do with solving a legitimate housing crisis or rationing limited police resources. If you listen to what our anonymous cop was quoted as saying, the picture is clear:
It's class warfare, pure and simple. He (or she) talks about "the rich people" in Rittenhouse Square as opposed to the "normal people" who live everywhere else.
I SUPPOSE that those who live in parts of South, West or North Philly are "normal" because their presumed socio-economic status gives them a heightened sense of compassion for the homeless - not like the horrible millionaires who have the gall to actually want to walk out of their homes and not be greeted by the sight of two strangers engaging in a morning quickie.
How ridiculous is that?
People who own Rittenhouse property (like those who own or rent homes in any neighborhood, however humble) have the right to expect that the public square isn't used as an impromptu sewer.
Would any of us who cherish our homes, million-dollar condos or modest rowhouses, welcome trespassers on our doorstep?
Would we just shrug at the sight of trash-strewn lawns and half-dressed hooligans as we head out to work? Is it only the affluent who are insensitive to the needs of the homeless?
The homeless problem is real, and although national figures have shown a significant decline from those in 2007, a two-block stroll anywhere in Center City will prove that Philadelphia isn't ready to celebrate just yet.
But admitting that the problem exists in no way justifies the nonsensical accusations made by that clueless police officer who, I'm certain, does not represent the majority of the good men and women in blue.
I used to enjoy walking through Rittenhouse Square in the morning. Few places in the city better exemplify the history and beauty of my hometown. But I've avoided it since the homeless have made it their personal boudoir. And I'm definitely not a millionaire.
So here's a message for that anonymous cop who makes a distinction between "the rich" and the "normal": You don't need a trust fund to deserve cleanliness and decorum. *
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.