Panhandling II

I’m gonna politely disagree with Karsh’s post on panhandling.

Walking up to someone and asking them for money is annoying and unpleasant. I hate it. It makes me angry, upset and sad. Surely, I’m not the only person who’s noticed that the people who walk up to you and ask for “bus fare” have a knack for doing so in front of gas stations or convenience stores that sell single cans of beer/alcohol.

But there’s no clause in the First Amendment that says “Not valid if speech is annoying or unpleasant.”

Bloggers, Blog commenters and Blog readers of all people should be the loudest defenders of the right to say things that make other people uncomfortable.

Panhandling is an economic and public health problem, not a criminal problem. If the downtown panhandling ban passes, expect to see all the panhandlers move to Midtown, Va-Hi and Little Five.

How exactly does that solve the panhandling problem? It doesn’t at all. It just moves it to neighborhoods that don’t have the same concentration of influential business leaders that downtown does.

As a resident of one the city’s, um, transitional neighborhoods, I find the proposed ordinance particularly infuriating. I can’t get the police to shut down the street corner drug market at Dill Ave & Hartford Ave. I can’t get them to at least get the hookers to move away from the residential part of my neighborhood and over to the abandoned industrial area. I can’t get the city to fix the collapsing sidewalk near Perkerson Park.

But when a coalition of business leaders wants to trash the First Amendment so that suburbanites aren’t confronted with poverty when they go the aquarium this fall, the city snaps to attention.

I’m very much for business development in the city. However, I’m a very much more for the Constitution and a city government that won’t paper over it to satisfy a bunch of executives who don’t even live within the city limits. This ordinance won’t help the city or its residents one bit. It helps a small group of business owners.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the panhandling legislation text.

10 Comments so far

  1. danielle (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 10:21 am


  2. Kent (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 10:22 am

    There are already panhandlers in Midtown, VaHighlands and Little 5.

    The real way to solve the panhandling problem is better services for the poor. More business downtown means more taxes, which (ostensibly) means more money available for such services.

    That’s the theory, anyway. It never seems to work that way though, does it?

  3. Daniel (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 10:27 am

    Not going to touch the issue of panhandling, but it seems to me that there is a point where concerns over harrassment and safety come into point and there are times when it ceases to be speech and starts being harrassment.

    And, of course, there are civic development issues as well.

  4. Cyanbane (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 11:14 am

    I understand exactly what the businesses are saying, they have an investment and they want to protect it. I understand what home owners are saying, they have an investment and want to protect it. As a whole the Aquarium will benefit the community more than homeowner’s will (in regards to tax income). I can easily see why they are trying to pass the law. As for if it should be treated criminally is a different story altogether. I don’t know how having cops procecute panhandlers is going to be beneficial in any way to anyone. It just wastes everyone’s time and in the end a night in jail may be better for the panhandler.

  5. Kurt (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 11:59 am

    My friend was looking for a loft in downtown Atlanta. As the realtor and he approached the loft’s entrance, he looked over and saw a homeless man defecating by the door. Needless to say, he bought elsewhere.

    The homeless problem isn’t a First Amendment issue, and it’s not limited to suburbanites who don’t want to be “confronted by poverty” when they venture downtown (Typical intown elitist comment, BTW. What, all ITP folks are so culturally sensitive that they enjoy it when a guy asks for $1 to go buy some Aqua-Velva to drink?)

    When tourists (and they come from other places besides Cobb County) come downtown and their 5-year-olds are frightened by a raving lunatic shouting obscenities at them, it’s harrassment. Downtown is disgusting. If you want to keep it as a playground for the homeless, they’ll have it all to themselves, cuz no one else will want to be there.

  6. matt (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 12:02 pm

    The Supreme Court has ruled that protesters at abortion clinics are protected under the first amendment to yell at patients, obstruct their way, and even slam their own bodies into the patients’ car doors to prevent them from going into the clinic. This is pretty extreme, but it’s protected under the first. Panhandling sucks, but the only way to get rid of it is when all those people have jobs and affordable housing.

  7. Daniel (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

    Matt – some might say that the way to get them jobs and develop the economy as a whole is to revitalize downtown. Which requires getting rid of the panhandlers. It’s a long term gain vs. short term gain argument, I think.

  8. Andisheh Nouraee (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 12:35 pm

    I live in a crime-ridden intown neighborhood and I think that the U.S. Constitution is more important than a poorly conceived city ordinance. How horribly elitist of me!

    Harassment, indimidation and shouting obscenities are already crimes. So is public pooping. As I indicated in my post, I’m desperate for the city to enforce “quality of life” ordinances more vigorously. I’m way into law and order (the idea and the tv show).

    But this law doesn’t clearly distinguish between “panhandling” and “aggressive panhandling.” It will make it illegal to say “Brother, can you spare a dime” to a stranger. By passing this law (and it will probably pass) the city is putting the wishes of a few people downtown over the needs of many more people AND THE BUSINESS OWNERS outside downtown.


  9. karsh (unregistered) on July 13th, 2005 @ 6:45 pm

    Panhandling is an economic and public health problem, not a criminal problem. If the downtown panhandling ban passes, expect to see all the panhandlers move to Midtown, Va-Hi and Little Five.

    I’ll agree with you there. Like you, I live in a crime-ridden intown neighborhood and work near the heart of Downtown. I went to school here too, so maybe I’m slightly oblivious to it; someone asks for money and I keep walking. I don’t think the ordinance is going to fix the panhandling problem altogether, but I think it’s at least trying to help contribute to the quality of life by improving downtown.

    Oh dear…and then there are the folks taking the racial slant towards the ordinance. That’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

  10. Jennifer (unregistered) on July 18th, 2005 @ 12:35 pm

    Oh pleeeez. Open up your eyes, you bleeding heart liberal Decatur-types. All of these panhandlers know where to get food – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – for free. They also can get a bed for free every night. They CHOOSE to annoy me on Peachtree St. They panhandle to buy crack. I put up with their cr*p day and night. Let’s move them to Decatur and see what happens — a total about-face by Decaturites currently whining in support of these creatures.

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