Panhandling isn't about race; it's about the right to be left alone. - R. Giuliani did it in N.Y.; now Atlanta must if its downtown is to prosper.
In New York, aggressive panhandling by the "squeegee men" in the 1980s and '90s led to a crackdown - and to fewer visitors being accosted.
In Atlanta in 2005, such a crackdown on panhandling is being assailed as racist - even though it's been touted by a black mayor and council member.
Cynthia Tucker, an African-American columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says that's nonsense. And she writes of a recent run-in with a panhandler - a white one.
This isn't about race; it's about one of America's most cherished, and most endangered, rights: the right to be left alone. Panhandlers have no constitutional right, as we see it, to put the arm on downtown pedestrians or motorists. Even so, some cities have designated panhandling zones to allow it.
Regardless of how, big-city downtowns, especially those in the warm South and those that rely heavily on tourism, need to get a handle on panhandlers. Panhandlers disrupt business, discourage tourists and drag down a city's quality of life. Like Tucker - and like Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin - we simply see no problem with restricting or even outlawing panhandling on downtown streets.
Moreover, those who want panhandlers left alone are doing them no favor whatsoever. Anyone experienced in homeless issues can tell you that enabling people to live on the streets does them more harm than good.
Better to get the homeless into shelters, drug rehabilitation programs, mental health centers and, in the best of cases, jobs. Cracking down on homeless panhandlers helps everyone - no one more than the homeless.
Indeed, Atlanta is getting set to open the 24/7 Gateway Center, a homeless service center south of the downtown business district.
It can, and will, be done humanely. But it has to be done.