William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 24 Jun 2005 16:01:32 -0400


Posted 6/24/2005

Proposal to bar panhandling likened to racial ban


A proposed ordinance to bar panhandlers from accosting people in Atlanta's
tourist section has run headlong into the politics of race in this city of
the New South that likes to portray itself as having moved beyond black and
Hoping to boost convention business and tidy up downtown, the City Council
is considering a measure to prevent visitors from being hit up for money by
homeless people around Olympic Centennial park, CNN Center and some of the
South's finest restaurants.
But most of the panhandlers are black. And earlier this week, the council
sent the proposal back to committee after activists likened the ban to the
"Negro removal" policy that they say white downtown business elites pursued
in the 1950s.
"This is a mean-spirited continuation of what they call the 'sanitation' of
Peachtree Street," said Joe Beasley, a 68-year-old Atlanta native who heads
the regional office of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. "The white folks, their
position was that black people were bad for commerce, and if you were black,
you just didn't go on Peachtree Street unless you were cleaning up or
But in the self-proclaimed "City Too Busy to Hate," the panhandling ban's
sponsor  who is himself black  said it has nothing to do with race and
everything to do with business.
"Our No. 1 industry in Atlanta is tourism and conventions. If we don't do
something, we run the risk of our downtown becoming a ghost town after
dark," said Councilman H. Lamar Willis.
He noted that Georgia Aquarium will open downtown in November, a new World
of Coke museum is planned nearby, and Atlanta also is bidding for the NASCAR
Hall of Fame museum.
The moral questions about how to reduce homelessness and begging have come
up in all big cities, from New York to San Francisco. But in Atlanta, even
the ban's biggest supporters say the city's segregationist past makes the
struggle harder.
"We're in Atlanta, so in any discussion where a group will be
disproportionately affected, there will always be an outright racial
component or an underlying racial tone," Willis said.
Atlanta came through the civil rights era with relatively little strife.
Maynard Jackson Jr. was elected the first black mayor of Atlanta in 1973,
and the city has not elected a white mayor since. The police chief is black
as well.
The Rev. Murphy Davis, a white woman who runs Open Door Community to assist
the homeless, dismissed the argument that the panhandling ban cannot be
racist because it is backed by black council members and the black mayor,
Shirley Franklin, in a city of 425,000 that is more than 60% black.
"The white business interests still run this city," Davis said.
Downtown business owners back the ordinance, complaining that some streets
and parks are so overrun with beggars that customers won't visit.
"My own wife doesn't come down here," said Alex Nader, owner of European
Kitchen Express, which overlooks Peachtree Street and a park. "We've had
panhandlers come inside and actually solicit money from people who are
He added: "If we call the police, basically they don't do much. They tell
them to leave the area, and as soon as the police are gone, they come back.
It is very bad for business."
Kenneth Strozier, a 46-year-old panhandler sitting in the park across from
Nader's restaurant, said: "I understand people don't want to be bothered,
but what are we going to do? We got no affordable housing, for one thing.
This new law or whatever isn't going to change it."
Under the ordinance, beggars could still sit on sidewalks with signs asking
for money, but they could not approach people for money downtown. In other
parts of the city, panhandling would still be allowed, except within 15 feet
of ATMs, bus and train stations and public toilets.
The ordinance also makes it a crime for panhandlers to make a "false or
misleading" solicitation, such as faking a medical condition or pretending
to be from out of town.
A first offense carries just a warning, a second offense a possible month of
community service, and subsequent violations up to a $1,000 fine and 30 days
in jail.
Marty Collier, a white activist who opposes the ban, said: "Maybe the
problem is that seeing panhandling arouses people's guilt. We're just hoping
they'll go somewhere else. We need to deal with the underlying problem and
not penalize the poor."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

 Copyright 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.