University District/Sun Feb 21/Noon
Officer Oscar Gardea reports: "I was dispatched to investigate an assault that occurred two days ago at the Safeway parking lot. The victim stated that she exited the front door of the Safeway pushing a shopping cart and she had her iPod earphones in her ears. She then stopped the shopping cart and began putting her groceries into her vehicle when the suspect approached her. The suspect then pushed her shopping cart into her, hitting her in the stomach area. The suspect told her, 'You need to respect me like I respect you.'
"The suspect then walked away and went back to the front of the Safeway to panhandle some more. The victim said that she thinks the suspect kept asking her for money while she was walking, but she couldn't hear him because of the earphones she had on. The victim also heard the suspect tell other people he needed money because of something to do with his kids and that he was from Tacoma.
"The victim was unsure whether she wants to file charges against the suspect, but she did want the incident documented."
This is the kind of report that Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess would hold up as irrefutable proof that "aggressive panhandling" is a serious problem that needs to be addressed with robust laws. For him, the citizens of Seattle deserve the right to walk down a street without being challenged by threatening looks and demanding hands.
From Burgess's newly proposed ordinance: "Residents of and businesses in the greater downtown area in Seattle believe aggressive solicitation is a serious problem in their home neighborhoods, and residents of the rest of the city agree. A 2009 survey of residents of downtown, South Lake Union, Belltown, Pioneer Square, and International District/Chinatown found that two-thirds of residents are concerned about aggressive solicitation and fewer than half believe the city is adequately addressing the problem."
There are, however, many of us who find certain parts of Burgess's ordinance to be totally ridiculous—for example, one section would require beggars to stand 15 feet away from ATMs. Many of us see nothing in all of this but the continued criminalization of poverty. Problems of poverty and mental illness are, once again, being solved not with improved social services but with increased law enforcement. But what our lawmakers and upstanding citizens must understand is that the police are not the solution to all of our problems. The men and women in blue do not need the extra work of confronting beggars who are standing too close to ATMs or hanging around Safeway.
The Seattle Human Rights Commission is holding a panel discussion on Tim Burgess's proposed restriction on Tue March 9 from 7 to 8:30 pm at Seattle University's Sullivan Hall, Room C5. Burgess will be a part of the panel.