Recently the Dallas Police Department has announced and begun a new policy towards “aggressive” panhandling. Under this new policy, termed the “Quality of Life Initiative,” no longer are panhandlers simply issued citations. Instead, police take them directly to jail. Working in shifts, Dallas traffic and plain-clothes cops have been patrolling 16 hours a day in downtown, arresting the homeless for panhandling in busy areas.
Touted as an effort to make downtown Dallas residents feel “safer” walking the streets, it is a thinly veiled move towards further criminalizing homelessness in Dallas. The initiative is claimed to only target those panhandlers who are “aggressive.” In the DPD’s words, “This is not a focus on those who are homeless, but a focus on aggressive panhandlers. Some arrestees have residences…One lives with his parents, and another states he is supplementing his savings account.”
But these people aren’t the norm. With 138 arrests in the 11 days since the start of the initiative on February 1 it’s obvious that this is an all out assault on the homeless. This is made even more obvious when the police define the start of an incident of aggressive panhandling as “approaching an individual demanding money, asking for money,” making it a definition that encompasses almost all panhandling behavior.
“We are going to focus on the downtown and surrounding areas first, and expand accordingly,” said Deputy Chief Gary Tittle, making it clear that this is just the start of an intensified clampdown on the rights of the homeless. Even in only 11 days this initiative has grown. TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) has agreed to install “no trespassing” signs underneath I-45 south of downtown across I-30, in Tent City, in order to allow police to issue citations on the property.
If Dallas really wanted to to stop panhandling, they would be treating the cause of this problem, by creating jobs and affordable housing, not making moves to displace 230+ homeless people from Tent City, which will only increase the number of panhandling arrests.
The dominant narrative in Dallas echoes the sentiments of Tanya Ragan, who has helped lead the push against the homeless community, that homelessness is “sad,” representing a failure to care for the poor and mentally ill, but “it’s got to be a tough love approach.”
This is an attitude that needs to be rejected. For many working people, ever growing economic inequality means the only difference between the homeless and themselves is a few paychecks. Criminalizing poverty will only exacerbate the problem and increase the amount of economic violence inflicted upon homeless people.
The DPD maintains that this policy is an attempt to redirect citizens to the proper channels for giving and receiving help. Not only is this a lie, but it fails to recognize the reality that charity has not been enough to solve the problems confronting homeless people. The landlordism, unemployment, and lowering of wages under capitalism constantly work against the efforts of charity. Without a system that recognizes that housing, work and healthcare are human rights, these problems can not be solved.