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You Are Dumb, which is not a blog, posts new columns every weekday, except for a couple of days each month when it doesn't. It is also a Twitter feed, @youaredumb, with content in a similar vein but much shorter. My spinoff food site, Forkbastard, can be found easily enough by the clever.
Archive - Jun 26, 2007
Memo to the Minneapolis City Council: YOU ARE DUMB.
About a week and a half ago, our local City Council approved a new raft of restrictions on panhandling. Apparently, some local politicians were eating outdoors, got asked for change while enjoying their meal, and suddenly the issue of begging got pushed to the forefront.
The new rules mean that poor people can't beg at night, they can't beg in groups of two or more, they can't beg within ten feet of a crosswalk, liquor store, or concenience store, and they can't beg within fifty feet of the doors to parks and sporting arenas.
It's a shitty thing to do. It's such a shitty thing to do that the people who were doing it tried to pretend they weren't doing it. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!
"This is not an ordinance against homelessness or poverty. What we are addressing is aggressive behavior, not a socioeconomic group." - City Council member Ralph Remington.
Of course it isn't. I'm sure that the instant some rich guy asks me for spare change within fifty feet of the Target Center, he'll be carted away by the police. What other socioeconomic groups ASK PEOPLE ON THE STREET FOR MONEY? For fuck's sake. I don't know which is worse - that he expects us to believe that, or that he might believe it himself.
At the end of the day, though, the reason this is a shitty thing to do isn't because it targets the poor. Even though it does. And even though these people have enough to deal with without estimating their distance from the nearest crosswalk.
No, this law is a shitty thing to do because it's just one more way to try and convince people that they live consequence-free lives.
I hate being panhandled. It's uncomfortable. I feel guilty if I give, and I feel guiltier if I don't. I don't want desperate people, crazy people, drunk people, coming up to me and asking me for money. But whether I want it or not, I need it. You need it. We all need it.
We need to be uncomfortable. We need to see that these people are there. That our system allows them to exist. That our system creates them. That our system largely DEPENDS ON THEIR EXISTENCE. Odds are, if you're reading this, your standard of living was built on the backs of thousands upon thousands of people with worse lives than you. Whether it's the guy assembling your Taco Supreme, or the guy who processed the cow to make it, the ugly fact of American life is that many of us are more comfortable BECAUSE other people are less comfortable. Not while. Not near. BECAUSE.
To live like that, and then try to turn downtown into a magical fantasy land where people never have to be confronted with even the smallest reminder of that unfortunate fact? That's what makes it a shitty thing to do.
And on a less socio-polemic note, all you suburbanites coming in for a game? All you folks who got suckered by the billboards into a brand new downtown condo? All you politicians enjoying lunch on Nicollet Mall? You people need to SUCK IT UP. You're in a city. A CITY. Cities have poor people. Cities have beggars. Cities have always had poor people and beggars and drunks and crazy people who walk down the street yelling for no reason.
You want to be in a city? You want fancy bars and sushi at 4 in the morning and skyscrapers and museums and professional sports teams? Then carry a couple of bucks in quarters in your pocket and SHUT THE FUCK UP. So what if they use it on drugs and booze? If I were living on the streets, I'd probably start drinking too. And every hour they spend in a stupor is one less hour they're bugging someone for change. Don't think of it as being kind to the poor and downtrodden. Think of it as a service you're providing to all the delicate suburban flowers who will be walking along this block for the next few minutes.
And if, even after all that, the thought of some dude smelling like Scope and pee fills you with unspeakable dread, don't look to the City Council to help you. Get your asses out of the metro and to a small town somewhere. You know, somewhere quiet, where downtown is three blocks long and everyone knows the name of the one guy who smells like Scope and pee. We'll all be happier.