Vex Harrow
Posted: February 21, 2013 at 5:47 pm
Subject: City of Tempe Preparing to Amend City Code to Stomp “Aggressive Panhandling”

The City of Tempe has been flirting with amendments to the city code designed to stomp down on “aggressive panhandling.” Since Tempe doesn’t have a very good or compassionate history with the treatment of homeless and street rats on their streets, I meet this sort of addition to city code with a great deal of skepticism when it comes to motives and ultimately its enforcement.

We shouldn’t forget the addition of “anti-sitting” laws to the city codes designed to criminalize sitting on the sidewalk–barring health concerns–after the City also changed the street layout to have less benches and seats (read: none.)

This sort of behavior from the council makes a grim precedent that ignores the reason why homeless people meet on Mill Avenue and adds to the danger of being without a place to stay at night.
Instead of a compassionate and thoughtful examination of why street rats line the red bricks, it looks like the City is continuing to kick them when they’re down. This from an article in the East Valley Tribune,

The City of Tempe stated in a request to the council that, “aggressive solicitation activities create a safety hazard and an increased potential for criminal activities.”

Multiple city council members stated that these changes will create a safer environment in high pedestrian and tourist areas such as the Mill Avenue District and throughout ASU’s Tempe campus.

The amendments would make it illegal to solicit within ten feet of or directly adjacent to the entrance of a business, as well as fifteen feet from any transit stop or taxi stand. This could mean more business for stores in areas where this is becoming more of a problem.

I may be mistaken, but aggressively interacting with anyone is already something that draws the attention of the police and it’s already illegal. The added element of “solicitation” seems like it’s just an addition slapped on top designed purely to target street rats.

The last paragraph explains the underlying reason why we’re seeing this legislation in the City Council: businesses are upset that homeless street rats appear on the streets and would-be Scottsdale customers looking for the white-picket-storefronts would steer elsewhere.

This next part really gave me a chuckle: several people interviewed about aggressive panhandling on Mill Avenue also speak to the situation of street preachers.

Besides panhandlers, Darling said she has seen many people being “badgered” by religious groups trying to spread their message not only on mill, but on campus as well.

“I don’t think it’s horrible,” Arizona State Criminology student Julie Martin said when asked about aggressive religious preachers. “People have the ability to proclaim that, and I think that is one of the basic rights of our country.”

Then again, Religious groups on Mill Ave and on ASU campus have been extremely aggressive in their proselytization.

It’s not uncommon that I park my cab and take the night in and run into these groups harassing people with their extremely loud speakers. Of course, the City of Tempe also recently passed a noise ordinance change that would quiet this excessive use of loudspeakers and bullhorns by religious groups.
As Martin above notices, while religious solicitation may be aggressive (and annoying) it’s covered at least by freedom of speech.

Street rats, however, won’t have these sort of protections. Nobody cares about them. Knowing how the Tempe police have targeted them in the past using similar legislation means that they’ll use the “aggressive” portion of the new codes to sweep them up even if they’re panhandling without aggression.
Even some of the commenters on the article aren’t so sure about this one.

I’m personally not sure where this will go and I don’t like the history of these sort of code changes shows–especially for Tempe.

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