8.15.2007

something must be done! the city is out of control! (or not)

It seems that every time something bad happens in Toronto - a shooting, a pedestrian killed by a speeding car, or now, a murder by a group of people labelled "panhandlers" - there's an outcry about how the city is "out of control" and demands that "something be done".

It's good that any death is taken seriously, and not brushed off with a "these things happen". However... these things do happen. In a reasonably free society, it's not possible to eliminate every negative social behaviour. If you want Toronto to resemble Singapore or post-revolution Iran - I've never been to either of those places, I'm basing this on writings by people who've lived there - you can cut way down on all kinds of anti-social behaviour. But if you want to live in a city where adults are mostly left on their own and expected to follow the law, things are going to happen. The more people, the greater the odds that it will.

Based on the published descriptions of the recent stabbing death on Queen West, I think the attack would be better described as a mugging. Those often begin with a request for money that escalates aggressively. Is mugging out of control in Toronto? Has there been a rash of attacks lately? There was a similar incident recently in Vancouver, and one in Toronto in May. That doesn't sound out of control to me.

Similarly, "panhandling" - a quaint word for begging - is not out of control in Toronto. Travel to any similarly sized city, and that will be plain.

Newsflash. The problem with begging isn't that it inconveniences us more fortunate passers-by as we go to work or out to dinner. The problem is the need to beg. Poverty. Homelessness. People who live on the street or in temporary shelters are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Describing this incident as a stabbing by a "panhandler" further marginalizes people who are already despised, or at best strenuously ignored.

I'm sorry for the man who was killed, and the people who mourn him. And I'm sorry for the people who survived the attack, as I'm sure it was extremely traumatic, something that will haunt them for a long time.

But it's still safe to go outside.

4 comments:

James said...

And, of course, at lunch yesterday I saw CityTV interviewing someone who was insisting that most of these "panhandlers" weren't poor, homeless people, but people with homes who just don't want to get jobs. Presumably because begging is so much more profitable and empowering than, say, flipping burgers.

L-girl said...

Right! And there's the persistent urban legend that beggars are actually wealthy people who rake in hundreds of tax-free dollars a day.

I've been hearing that one since I was a kid, when the "crazy lady" who hung around the Shoppers Paradise parking lot was reputed to be a millioniare.

impudent strumpet said...

"panhandling" - a quaint word for begging

Funny, I always thought of it the other way around - "begging" was the old-fashioned word and "panhandling" was what it's called now. Which makes no sense when I think about it.

there's the persistent urban legend that beggars are actually wealthy people who rake in hundreds of tax-free dollars a day.

Funny that the people who are loudest in saying this never choose to take up begging to earn a living themselves.

L-girl said...

Funny that the people who are loudest in saying this never choose to take up begging to earn a living themselves.

Good point. It would be nice if they had to try it for a while. I've never done it myself, but something tells me a few days on the street with give everyone a lot more empathy.