Widening panhandling rule would boost coercion, threat in city


A Chattanooga charity program called On my own 2 Feet & Wheels gives free bikes to homeless people, who may reach 4,000 in a year, according to TV3. (Photo On my own 2 Feet & Wheels)

Police chief David Roddy is asking city council to expand his enforcement powers to target what he calls aggressive panhandlers.

The city charter allows for enforcement against handlers of slms pans to be directed against men and women in certain tourist oriented areas of the city such as Tennessee Aquarium, Miller Park, the IMAX theater and the Bessie Smith Hall block.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7

“By using a citywide ordinance it gives us the ability to address it where it is witnessed,” Chief Roddy said, “where it is having a negative impact on our community.”

Chief Roddy says making more acts of begging criminal is better for everybody. “It helps us move into a better, healthier direction for that person, for the community members that are around it when it’s going on, but also for our district officers so they can actually move someone into another lane, as it were.”

Homelessness is not a crime, but homeless people have a disproportionate level of contact with police, who are called regularly to provide for them social, keep order and enforce statutes and ordinances among the addressless poor, resulting in arrests, jailings, criminal records and piled-on court costs. Many homeless men have so-called mental health problems.

Putting more of the city under police threat would indicate city council members seeking quick, final solutions rather than giving these parts of human society means of ameliorating themselves. Council member Anthony Byrd worries about the rule infringing on free-speech rights and being abused by cops against peddlers of Girl Scout cookies.

Such ordinances are a tempting militarization of a social problem, as was the federal war on drugs and many other armed sieges by the modern state against wings of its own population.

Cleaning up

➤ Cops are apart from civilian society. They are uniformed men in a holy order who wear armor and bristle with weaponry such as tasers and pistols. They view themselves as split seconds away from street combat encounters and threats of death. From Chief Roddy on down, officers mount on their front belts a set of three automatic pistol magazines like the sharp bow of a Navy frigates. Men trained for fighting and siege are ill-equipped to deal with people whose doings are more likely to be improved by personal interaction and persuasion.

➤ Expanding the no-panhandling district to include the entire city corporation criminalizes of poverty and homelessness.

➤ Policing and enforcement of ordinance and statute adds to the county’s jail problem downtown.

David Roddy, police chief

➤ Cashflow is no benefit to the homeless, Chief Roddy told the city council March 6, because of evil habits among the homeless. “Five dollars a day every single day will not change where some of these men and women have found themselves,” Roddy said. “Some of these individuals should become uncomfortable in order to break the cycle they are in.”

➤ Panhandling ordinance serve elites, homeowners and renters. Arresting people for aggressive panhandling does not solve those people’s problems, but it relieves pedestrians and people waiting at traffic lights of the trouble of being petitioned by a poor person for F$2.

➤ Bans on vagrancy and begging come from the conservative “broken windows” theory that keeps jails and court dockets full. New York spent F$129 million over five years to jail 800 people who kept cycling through the jail system, half of them homeless. That’s more than F$30,000 per person per year. Another study said that a 100 percent subsidized apartment could be obtained for F$11,000.

Roddy promises to spare us

Chief Roddy promises to spare us the very thing that makes Chattanooga a city — diversity. He appeals to an understandable desire to expect rural tranquility and isolation from a rough, gritty metropolis. Cities appeal to people precisely because in a city one encounters all types of human characters.

Here, the great one in his fancy car and splendid suit, jabbering on a wireless phone with his stockbroker. There, the bedraggled man toting his earthly possessions in Wal-Mart plastic bags and willing to give you the short version of a tall tale about how he’s been jilted by luck and just needs a bite to eat. Cities have highs and lows. In truly crowded cities like New York, one has on its sidewalks hubbub, catcalls, harassing exchanges on the sidewalk, foul language overheard, verbal joustings, foreign tongues and weird personalities.

A person who ventures to live in a city among people should not shrink from dealing with the occasional beggar or squeegee man, but rather celebrate the diversity that these alternative worlds represent. Especially if one prides himself on his civic-mindedness and open-mindedness.

State law bans “aggressive panhandling,” in which a mendicant “intentionally [touches] the person being solicited without the person’s consent, *** intentionally [obstructs] the path of the person, or of the vehicle of the person, being solicited, *** [follows] a person who is walking away from the person soliciting the donation, [and makes] any statement, gesture, or other communication that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear of personal harm for refusing a solicitation of a donation” Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-313. The city’s ordinance bans the practice before daylight and after dark.

Chattanooga is a gracious city in many ways — its policing mechanism infused with more lenity than that in other cities, its philanthropy sector a standout in the South. But city council should avoid altering its rule. It should shrink from a step that would eventually get Chattanooga on one homeless coalition’s list of meanest American cities.

Like him or not, H.L. Mencken was right. “The state remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.”

Sources: Kayla Strayer, “Chattanooga police chief wants to expand panhandling ordinance to all of city,” Newschannel9.com, March 7, 2018

Greg Vitale, The End of Policing (London, New York: Verso Books [imprint of New Left Books]), 2017, p. 97.

National Coalition for the Homeless, list of meanest cities. http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/crimreport/meanestcities.html

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