Regardless of where you stand on the issue of panhandlers in OKC’s medians, local media love it. It’s that perfect combination of public awareness and government action. Popular outcry plus bureaucratic response equals news.
Since Sept. 10, more than a dozen news stories from local media have focused on Councilwoman Meg Salyer’s proposal to prohibit people from occupying city street medians. In essence, the proposed ordinance addresses panhandlers, fundraising firefighters and youth sports teams soliciting donations.
Media coverage has included everything from a commentary in The Journal Record to that good ol’ brand of Lost Ogle humor. Let’s take a look at some of the headlines from our local media spectrum, shall we?
Never mind that there’s really nothing in the proposal that actually WOULD cut down on panhandling, as News 9’s unnecessarily capitalized headline states. The real inaccuracy here comes from the first few lines of the text: “One city councilwoman wants to make it against the law.”
First, panhandling is actually protected as free speech under the First Amendment, so no one can “make it against the law.” Second, the proposal from Meg Salyer and the council (minus Ed Shadid) only seeks to make panhandling in the median illegal, and even then it would be a misdemeanor punishable by a possible fine and potential court costs.
It’s almost like one source was trying to set the reporter straight: “This ordinance simply says you cannot stand on a median in order to beg, solicit or sell something,” Georgie Rasco with Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma was quoted as saying. Rasco has announced her support for the proposal via multiple Neighborhood Alliance e-mails.
Again, this headline from OKC’s Fox 25 is not really accurate. The ordinance just moves panhandlers from the median to the curb. It’s actually cracking down on ANYONE in the median, including firefighters during their Fill the Boot campaigns for muscular dystrophy or school children trying to raise funds.
On the same day, Kelly Ogle’s My 2 Cents editorial featured this almost-correct-but-still-sensational head. It’s as if “crack” and “panhandlers” just go so well together that they must be mentioned in the same breath.
The Tulsa World simply reposted the NewsOK story. I expected better from you, TW.
OMFG, KGOU. On a side note, their article has a video of a council meeting, titled: “The City of Oklahoma City City Council Meeting.”
Lost in all of the hyperbolic headlines is the stated impetus for Salyer’s proposal, which was echoed by Rasco from the Neighborhood Alliance above: public safety.
Of course, if public safety were really a concern in OKC medians, we would be seeing and hearing about people (panhandlers, firefighters, children) getting hit by cars in those areas. But we aren’t hearing or seeing that, unless you count a tragic incident from Sept. 9 up in Lansing, Mich.
Wednesday, I spoke to Master Sgt. Gary Knight with the Oklahoma City Police Department to ask about any incidents he could recall in which vehicles had struck people while they were specifically on a median. He said he could not recall any such incident.
I also spoke to City of Oklahoma City attorney Richard Smith, and while he did remind me there have been plenty of incidents in which motorists have hit and killed pedestrians in the street, he could not speak to specific instances of hazards posed by median occupation.
Last, Kristy Yager with the City could only tell me that, while Northwest 23rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue was a hotbed of pedestrian-versus-vehicle activity, she was unaware of any specific median-related accidents.
So why does Salyer’s campaign rely on the guise of “public safety” to gain traction? Why don’t they just come out and say, “We’re trying to crack down on this panhandling problem that plagues our city?”
Local media obviously have no problem saying it.