Walk around downtown Atlanta and you can hear this common plea from panhandlers asking for money.
"Excuse me sir, can spare a dollar? Sir, can you help me get a cup of coffee?"
Lauren Bryant, a student at Georgia State University, said people asking for money accost her all too often as she walks class.
"Every day," Bryant said. "When you have someone in your face, constantly asking for money, I'm a college student. I need money. You know?"
People who live, work and shop around downtown Atlanta may soon get a reprieve from the daily bombardment of panhandlers.
City Council Monday afternoon passed an ordinance to crack down on aggressive panhandling by a vote of 9-5.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who introduced the ordinance, said the current law has no teeth. Police can arrest a panhandler only after the third citation and the maximum penalty is 30 days behind bars.
Under Bond's ordinance, aggressive panhandlers could get locked for 180 days after the offense.
"We want to break the cycle of harassment in the city," Bond said.
When asked if the ordinance would unfairly target the poor, Bond answered, "It doesn't. The statistics don't bear that out. Eighty-one percent of people arrested are not homeless people, period."
A panhandler, who asked not to be identified, said he is homeless. He said the ordinance would crack down on a lot of people just trying to survive.
"I don't think it's fair at all," the unnamed man said, adding that the money he asks for pays for essentials. "It's for day-to-day necessities, like hygiene, food to eat. They just assume we're harassing people. It's not like that."
A downtown store owner, who asked to remain unidentified out of fear of retaliation, said people begging for money outside his store are chasing away business.
"It (has) gotten to a point where it's unbearable," the store owner said.
"People make lewd comments, curse words, people are intoxicated while doing this. We talk to our customers and they say we don't want to come to that dirty place anymore," the store owner said.
Some in the civil rights community oppose the ordinance.
Joe Beasley, the southern director of the civil rights group the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said the ordinance fails to address some of the underlying reasons that push people to panhandle: joblessness, poverty and homelessness.
"The victims are being blamed," Beasley said.
When asked if people have the right to walk down the street without being accosted, Beasley responded, "in an ideal world, yes - but we don't live in an ideal world.
The ordinance goes to Mayor Kasim Reed, who has 10 days either to sign the ordinance into law, do nothing and passively let it become law or veto it.
Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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