The American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the City of Daytona Beach’s efforts to rid our besieged intersections and public spaces of aggressive panhandling and return a sense of sanity to our community.
Once again, the organization sides with a proven social corrosive – as detrimental to the health and vitality of communities as any criminal enterprise – under the guise of defending the constitutional rights of the oppressed.
I don’t buy it. And neither should you.
In Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column, “Crackdown is overly harsh and probably unconstitutional,” the ACLU’s George Griffin and Cary Ragsdale make the argument that panhandling represents constitutionally protected free speech – akin to Girl Scouts selling cookies in front of a grocery, or neighbors greeting each other on the street – and that those set upon by belligerent beggars also have the right to ignore the solicitation, say “No,” and simply walk away.
Anyone who has ever been verbally and physically accosted by a persistent, wildly intoxicated bindlestiff knows that simply walking away isn’t as easy as Griffin and Ragsdale suggest.
The civil libertarians also took an undeserved swipe at Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri, claiming that he is using the new trespass and panhandling prohibitions to “gleefully arrest and sweep human beings away as if he were cleaning out a rat infestation.”
Look, I respect the tenets of defending and preserving the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States – in fact, I took an oath to do just that when I enlisted in the military and later served over thirty-years in law enforcement.
Unfortunately, over the past 100 years, the ACLU has gone so far into the weeds on issues from the serious to the patently ridiculous that it has lost all credibility in the eyes of most Americans.
Anyone who lives or works in the Halifax area has seen the deleterious effect of hordes of tattered mendicants occupying every quadrant of every major intersection in Daytona Beach.
These weren’t starving indigent’s struggling for their very survival – to the contrary.
Most were ambulatory drunks holding hand-scrawled signs screaming, “Why lie, I need a beer!” making a mockery of those at the nadir of life who must beg to physically survive.
This period of our local history was different. It was predatory, organized and insidious – their numbers growing weekly like a malignancy – which added to the sense of blight, dilapidation and hopelessness that pervades many areas of our community.
Using sympathy-inducing props, like wheelchairs and the ephemera of the poor, scores of these professional grifters set upon our community and fleeced those whose giving spirit and sensitivity to the human condition refused to let them pass another being ostensibly in need.
When offered work or a hand up, many of these career scroungers scoffed at the very idea of actually “earning” a wage – smug in the knowledge they will make more in a few hours of panhandling than the hapless sap offering them gainful employment would in a day of hard labor.
Contrary to what the ACLU would have us believe, in my view, Chief Capri showed remarkable compassion and restraint in the many months before the ordinances took effect.
In fact, he stood strong and followed the law, even as his department suffered the withering criticism of many residents and business owners who demanded a law enforcement resolution to one of the most perplexing problems of our time, even as stories emerged of intimidating tactics that were having a corrosive effect on distressed areas – such as downtown and the Boardwalk – where already struggling establishments can ill afford to have paying customers discouraged by bands of roving drunks.
Clearly, the Daytona Beach Police Department’s measured implementation of this wide-ranging legislation has been geared toward education and compliance – tempered with fairness, firmness and a respect for the rights of all citizens.
Our area stands at a crossroads – beset by myriad social, civic and economic issues that have resulted in years of stagnation and turned much of our core tourist areas into a wasteland. In my view, which path we choose now will determine the long-term viability of our community’s hospitality-based economy – and shape our collective quality of life for years to come.
In many ways, it’s now – or never – and this predacious activity simply cannot be allowed to continue.
I join the thousands of Halifax area residents in applauding the visionary ordinance recently passed by the Daytona Beach City Commission which provides our law enforcement officers with the tools necessary to eliminate organized mendicancy and remove the criminal element who prey on the good will of area residents while draining precious resources from those who truly need our help.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal