Wednesday, August 26, 2009

panhandling issue too complicated for tully

in today's column, matt tully laments that the issues surrounding the city's latest proposed panhandling ordinance are "complicated", but fails to adequately explain just why this is so.

the column's most grievous flaw is that it fails to acknowledge the role of classism in the debate—and classism is at the very heart of the proposed ordinance. let there be no doubt: the whole point of the proposal is that panhandlers, who are poor and, more importantly, look poor, make a certain segment of the population uncomfortable. people like councilor mike mcquillen are so disgusted by these disheveled panhandlers that they're willing to strip away everyone's right to stand on a street corner holding a sign.

perhaps the reason tully doesn't acknowledge the role of classism in the debate is because of his own classism: he says that arguments for the ordinance are "compelling" and agrees with ICVA CEO don welsh that panhandlers have a "profound and negative impact on the image of Indianapolis." or perhaps he naively believes that the bill isn't classist because it "does not solely target panhandlers" and applies to "kids selling car washes, people holding political or going-out-of-business signs, and more". of course, the only reason it applies to those folks is because it has to in order to pass constitutional muster (and even then, it could still be struck down as unconstitutional once the inevitable lawsuits hit the courts). if this were truly about public safety and not about dirty panhandlers, we wouldn't still be calling it a panhandling ordinance.

no, the bill is clearly about panhandlers, and everyone else who'd be affected is just collateral damage. even tully can't be bothered to spend more than a sentence discussing the kids' car washes, church fundraisers, and live sign holders who'd be restricted from advertising their wares. of course, a complete listing of everyone who'd be unjustly branded a panhandler by this ordinance would be so long that it would take up tully's entire column, and new examples are coming to light all the time. (one of the column's commenters—insert standard disclaimer about the vileness of indy star comments section here—points out that buskers and street performers would also be affected, which hadn't occurred to me, but makes perfect sense.)

the column isn't a complete wash, though. it has a couple good passages... even if those passages are just quotes from other people:

Timothy Maguire, who serves as chairman of the Marion County Libertarian Party, walked to the podium. He pointed to an existing law that allows police to go after aggressive panhandlers.

"Why is it that whenever the laws on the books are not being enforced, the knee-jerk reaction is to create new laws that won't accomplish anything?" Maguire asked, adding: "Do you just need to admit that we don't like looking at panhandlers?"

quite. the law is clear that panhandlers aren't even supposed to speak to passersby unless spoken to first. but even standing there quietly is too much, apparently.

in the end, tully concludes that "[i]t's a reasonable issue" and "worth debating". but he never quite explains what's so reasonable about it. he never examines the arguments of the bill's sponsors; he only agrees with them, as if it's self-evident that those filthy panhandlers don't belong on our street corners, as if the mere act of holding a sign makes someone a menace to public safety.

the issues are complicated, all right. apparently, they're not only too complicated for republicans on the council, but they're too complicated for political columnists, as well.


Wilson46201 said...

A giant yellow chicken holding a sign with "BART LIES" at a street corner could be arrested if this ordinance passes...

James Briggs Stratton "Doghouse" Riley said...

A giant yellow chicken holding a sign with "BART LIES" at a street corner could be arrested if this ordinance passes...

Could be, but wouldn't; told to move back to some arbitrary point and then ignored is more like it. Anybody--including Racist Beacon political reporters--who says this thing wouldn't be selectively enforced is full of it.

By the way, I'm 55 years old, and I remember the old downtown. Panhandler on the Washington St. corner of Ayres, panhandler on the Illinois side, always the same guys. Same thing at Block's. Maybe we could think about solving the problem some time. Maybe, now that the Republicans have solved that little CIB shortfall, it could renovate another downtown building and give 'em all jobs doing nothing. Wouldn't change CIB culture much, and we're sure to get more out of it than we will the $15 mil we coughed up for the SImons. Or, since the Colts don't wanna help out, put the homeless in charge of skybox security, or Jim Irsay's medicine cabinet.