Muskogee city councilors should stop trying to legislate panhandlers out of existence.
The Council passed an ordinance in 2012 that was intended to protect public safety and improve Muskogee’s image by eliminating aggressive panhandling.
The Council recently began discussing updating the ordinance. Some believe the ordinance appears to have had little impact.
It’s true. Panhandlers remain here.
That’s because poor people exist.
That’s because mental health issues exist.
And, yes, that’s because there are some people more willing to ask for handouts than work.
Forcing all panhandlers out of sight ignores the needs of the first two groups.
Every citizen and visitor should feel safe. More patrol officers would help.
More city lights would help, too.
But writing and rewriting ordinances designed to shove poverty and panhandlers underground does not make Muskogee a substantially safer place.
Muskogee police officers have issued four tickets under the ordinance. That suggests officers have more important things to do than to stop people from panhandling.
Those panhandlers who seek money by force or by intimidation should receive their next meal in jail. They are committing a form of assault.
But others can be addressed in another way.
If you feel someone is trying to scam money because they just don’t feel like working, then don’t give them money. That’s your choice. Those panhandlers will leave when the money dries up.
Some councilors appear to be concerned that panhandlers do not wear reflective vests, such as the ones city street workers wear.
The purpose of those vests should be for the safety of those wearing the vests. They should not be used to condemn poverty.
Panhandling has long been upheld as free speech by the Supreme Court. That form of free speech appears to be distasteful to some. Some of those believe it is so distasteful that the mere sight of poor people will hurt our city’s image.
Becoming known as the city that successfully chased away panhandlers while 80 percent of our school children receive free or reduced-price lunches is not an image this city should seek.
Legislating the extinction of panhandlers creates an image of a city that lacks compassion or one of a city that’s just plain cruel.
And that image does not reflect the majority of the good people of Muskogee.