Last updated on 2012.11.14
Sioux Falls—O jewel of the prairie!—is worried that panhandlers may dim its image. The local police are thus drafting a tougher panhandling ordinance that allow them to arrest folks for asking for money near Interstate exits and traffic entrances.
Of course, we have businesses asking for our money with much more garish and distracting signs all along the Interstate and the shining streets of Sioux Falls. Does the SFPD want to outlaw, perhaps, those flashing Daktronics signs that draw the eye away from much tamer sights like stop lights and pedestrian crossings?
Chief Doug Barthel at least recognizes the First Amendment danger in crafting such an ordinance:
Meanwhile, the Police Department will present a proposed revised version of the panhandling ordinance to the Public Services Committee in September. According to Barthel, crafting the language is tricky because he does not want it to affect people holding up signs promoting events, such as school car washes [Brady Mallory, "Panhandling Laws Could Get Stricter," KELOLand.com, August 31, 2012].
I generally don't sympathize with panhandlers. I want to believe that folks sufficiently literate to make a sign and sufficiently healthy to walk the street with that sign each day have the wherewithal to make money working. But I also recognize they have as much right to make their pitch on public streets as businesses advertising their wares, politicians asking for votes, petitioners seeking signatures, and protesters shouting their slogans.
Spare yourself the First Amendment hassle, Chief Barthel. Current ordinances on physical harassment and impeding traffic should be enough to take care of any real problems. Folks asking for money in high-traffic areas is just another of those badges of metropolitan honor Sioux Falls must bear as it grows.
Related: Maybe police should be more concerned about protecting Native American women from catcalls and other harassment on the street.