HARRISONBURG — Old laws written decades — and in some cases, centuries — ago are often so arcane and out of touch with today’s society, many people can’t imagine a time when they ever would have appeared on the books.
Even more perplexing is the fact that many of these so-called “stupid laws” are still on the books.
In some cases, though, those laws aren’t laws at all — and in the case of one supposed ordinance in Dayton, may never have been in the first place.
This month, Gawker.com, whose slogan is “today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news,” posted an article highlighting the recently released list of safest cities in America. The Harrisonburg metropolitan area ranked ninth on the list, which was developed by CQ Press, a subsidiary of Congressional Quarterly.
In addition to the list, Gawker.com listed a “stupid law” supposedly found in each of the communities on the list.
For the Harrisonburg metro, Gawker included a law it said was in Dayton’s town code. The alleged law reads: “a person of color may not be outside or within the city limits after 7 p.m.” Several other websites listing stupid laws also include the “law” and Dayton’s supposed connection to it.
So how could Dayton — or any town — have such a discriminatory and obviously unconstitutional law on its books in the 21st century?
The answer, of course, is that Dayton has no such law. And while it’s conceivable that a law limiting the movement of blacks at night may have been on the books at some point in the 19th century, town officials say they’ve never heard of it.
Jason Ham, Dayton’s town attorney, said he was shocked by the report.
“It’s completely false. I know that law is not in the books,” Ham said. “No such law has been on the books … maybe forever, but definitely not for ages.”
Ham said the firm he works for, Litten and Sipe, has represented the town for decades. None of the attorneys there has ever heard of the law, either.
John Cook, listed as editor-in-chief of Gawker.com, acknowledged the error in an emailed response for comment (the website has no listed phone number.)
“It appears that there is indeed no such law currently on the books in Dayton,” Cook wrote. “That was an unforced error, and we are correcting the post accordingly.”
While Mayor Charles Long said he wasn’t pleased with the reference, he doesn’t anticipate a backlash toward the town.
“It was a surprise,” Long said. “We’re a safe community. We’re a very progressive town.”
He said the website lacks credibility.
“You have to take the website for what it’s worth,” he said.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org