SWEEP aggressive panhandlers from Milwaukee: editorial FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 3 Aug 1998 15:32:48 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  EDITORIAL  Milwaukee [Wisconsin] Journal Sentinel, August 1, 1998


Removing aggressive and intimidating panhandlers from downtown streets is a
job that police should be doing all the time. No one who goes downtown to
shop or work or attend a convention should feel threatened while simply
walking the streets or waiting for a bus.

In fact, one of the primary reasons that people give for not going downtown
is that they feel unsafe. Being accosted by an unshaven, 6-foot panhandler
with grime on his face and hands can be a little frightening for anyone.

So the new campaign by Milwaukee police to remove aggressive street people
who exhibit anti-social or criminal behavior is commendable -- as long as
police don't become anti-social and overaggressive themselves by removing
every homeless person they see.

Homeless people have the right of every citizen to walk the city's streets.
And, while homeless men and women on Wisconsin Ave. may not be the image
that city officials want visitors to remember, homelessness is a reality
that must be dealt with in this and every other city in the country.

But there is no evidence that police are targeting people who happen to be
homeless. At the opening of the Midwest Express Center last weekend,
homeless people standing nearby were not harassed by police.

Still, the police argument that the downtown sweep has nothing to do with
that opening is unconvincing. The new convention center is a true city gem,
and it will play host to some important visitors in coming weeks. Allowing
visiting governors -- or anyone else -- to be accosted by aggressive
panhandlers will not add any luster to that gem, and is something any city
official would want to avoid.

So while the sweep probably is designed to improve the city's image at a
critical time, there's nothing wrong with removing threatening people from
the downtown streets -- or any other streets, for that matter. In fact, the
sweeps appear to be another positive result of Chief Arthur Jones'
commitment to quality-of-life policing. If the sweeps work downtown, they
should be tried in other areas.


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