There’s a Kansas City council member named John Fairfield (also a Kansas City mayoral candidate, but who isn’t?) who wants to ban “panhandling” in four specific areas of our city. Here’s the article (login required).
Panhandling is broadly defined in the proposal, and would include “any request for money by voice, music, singing or other street performance,” according to the article. This has some musicians and other performance artists riled up, and apparently there was quite a show at the most recent city council meeting as some protested the proposal by performing for council members.
But street performers aside, a deeper question we ought to be asking has to do with the people who aren’t juggling or doing balloon animals or playing their saxophone. Those who are there just sitting, hand held out, their life’s circumstances having driven them to desperation. It is a desperate life that is lived begging for help on the street, no matter what it was that got you there in the first place. Do we really want to consider street folks criminals and run them off, just to make our shopping experience more comfortable?
Some people are quick to pass judgment on people of the street, certain that it must be their own fault somehow, that they must be lazy, that they made bad choices and are now just suffering the consequences of those choices so let them suffer, that they actually prefer to live this lifestyle, or some other such rationalizations. What sucks is that some of those people passing judgment are Christians who claim to be followers of Jesus, the one who says, “Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” (Luke 6:30, NRSV)
Maybe I’m missing something, but that seems pretty clear to me. I don’t know if John Fairfield, running for mayor and wanting to make a name for himself, is a Christian or not. In fact, I don’t know anything about him. But I think his proposal reflects the worst part of our society, the part that wants to go shopping and be entertained and eat at fancy restaurants without any pesky reminders that some people can’t do those things. What purpose does banning panhandlers serve other than a desire for antiseptic, insulated, isolationist denial of reality? “If they’re not there, we can pretend they don’t exist!”