The revelation that Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy wants to crack down on the city’s panhandlers is every bit as refreshing as the beautiful jonquils now bursting forth across our city. In a recent poll on Chattanoogan.com, over 80 percent of those who live here indicated they are scared to go downtown and that is inexcusable. This is no way for anyone to live.
But I can safely guarantee you that Chief Roddy would not allow his wife or one of his daughters to try to make the Kim White Stroll and you wouldn’t either. Kim, who has been such a cheerleader for downtown with her River City group, has been woefully negligent in failing to confront downtown’s biggest pariah and, until we conquer what is plaguing every other city in America, our restaurants and stores downtown will suffer.
At last week’s City Council meeting, there was a turnout of critics of a new ordinance to curb panhandling and – mercy -- had only our city fathers had the foresight, they would have been armed with valid arguments. Get this, well over 65 percent of America’s 186 largest cities have ordinances in place preventing begging in “particular public places,” such as tourist or commercial districts.
My gracious, one woman allowed that limiting panhandling “is just another ploy to feed the bodies of poor people into the machine of mass incarceration.” But the best of the best was when another told the City Council, “If you are considering this as a viable ordinance, I humbly suggest we just change the name of this city to Sodom. Or Gomorrah. Either works.” (Lady, you’ll win if you run for mayor … imagine the uptick in tourism!)
The United States Constitution preserves free speech – there is nothing illegal about asking for $5 to get some beer – but when the citizenry is harassed, when the sidewalks are littered with human waste, and lone females are subject to sexual slurs, something must be done. It happens every day. The Stroll starts at MLK and Market, goes north to the Aquarium, loops to Broad and then back to MLK. Try it and you’ll be in for heartbreak.
What’s more, virtually every other city not on that list soon will be. In Sevierville (Tn.) last week the leaders passed an ordinance that “prohibits anyone from soliciting money or other things of value after sunset or before sunrise and asking for money repeatedly is not allowed at any time.
Further, it reads, “No persons can ask for money in an abusive or aggressive manner. It is illegal to panhandle in parking lots or parking garages or from active drivers. It is unlawful to solicit money or other things of value within 20 feet of a crosswalk or intersection, entrance or exit of a bank or check-cashing business or ATM, public restroom, bus stops, pay phones, sidewalk cafes or outdoor eating areas. Anyone witnesses panhandling should immediately call the Sevierville Police Department at (865) xxx-xxxx.”
Any questions? If so, critics can call Albuquerque, Denver, New Orleans, Portland, Little Rock, Atlanta, Miami Beach … wherever in the Land of the Free you wish … and you’ll find America is way beyond Chattanooga in inventing the wheel. In New York, they now offer flagrant panhandlers a free one-way airplane ticket anywhere in the world! “No waiting! Leave today!”
The new Jackson, Miss., ordinance proposes for a court summons to be written on the first offense and the officer will hold the alleged until an “outreach team evaluator” comes immediately. A social worker will meet the alleged in court. The second offense carries a 30-day stint in community service, the third 30 days and a $1,000 fine. If a panhandler claims to be a Viet Nam veteran, or “hungry veteran” and is found to be using “stolen valor,” there will be additional charges.
Wait, it’s not that cruel. With unemployment at a refreshing low, a growing number of cities are offering panhandlers jobs in public works. The experts say beggars are buying too many drugs for that to be successful (with drug testing) but the overwhelming belief is that not until America’s cities address the growing homeless condition, panhandling isn’t going away.
In Knoxville a huge crowd was on hand Friday when Knox County’s new Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center was unveiled and its doors will open tomorrow. This will divert the mentally afflicted – alcohol, drugs, homeless – from the Knox County jail and save the county millions. It will also process and monitor those who are off their medications and begin a “life renewal” that is already taking place in Nashville and other large cities across the country.
Chattanooga, with Sheriff Jim Hammond seizing on the idea with total support of County Mayor Jim Coppinger, is well on the way to such a facility. Major Chattanooga businesses – Blue Cross Blue Shield, Erlanger, Memorial, Unum, and others are already financing the county’s effort.
It is very important for the whole city to fall under the ordinance. At the Belvoir exit on I-24 on Friday, there was a panhandler at every stop light. On Shallowford Road a panhandler was stepping between lanes of stopped traffic. Open-air dining areas are being hounded in the downtown and mall areas.
“It’s not a hand up or a hand out,” Chief Roddy said. “It’s a foot placed on the shoulder pushing someone down.”
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* -- “Never stand begging for that which you have the power to earn.” -- Miguel de Cervantes
* -- “A friend of mine, a Hispanic entrepreneur asked me a question sometime ago, he said, 'When is the last time you saw a Hispanic panhandler?' I think it's a great question. I'll tell you, in my life I've never once seen a Hispanic panhandler, because in our community, it would be viewed as shameful to be out on the street begging.” -- Ted Cruz
* -- “I'm from Wisconsin so I always feel a little nauseous about begging and trying to trick people into liking me.” -- Dan Harmon
* -- “I grew up in rural Arkansas, and I'm afraid that begging is not part of our characteristics” -- Danny K. Davis
* -- “Congressmen spend between five and seven hours a day on the phone, begging for money.” -- Eric Massa
* -- “You cannot hold your head high with your hand out.” – Proverb
* -- “Behind every person is a story, behind every story is a person. So think before you judge, because judging someone doesn’t label who they are, it labels who you are.” – Unknown