Three cheers for public safety! Wednesday night, in a 5-4 vote, the Cranston City Council took back their streets with a new and improved public safety ordinance. The vote, taken on strict party lines, was in response to the epidemic of panhandling at busy Cranston intersections. The ordinance includes no criminal penalty and narrowly blocks individuals from stepping into city roadways to solicit money.
Supported by Mayor Allan Fung, the ordinance — elegantly renamed “Prohibition Against Distribution to and Receiving from Occupants of Vehicles” — is an important step to restoring order to busy main streets in Cranston.
With a 48th ranking on the Family Prosperity Index, Rhode Island has struggled with a protracted economic crisis that has undoubtedly contributed to the state’s homelessness problem. Some proponents of the measure said during the meeting that they recognize and feel compassionate for those struggling with homelessness and addiction but see this as a safety issue.
Jonathan Keith, a former candidate for State Senate in District 27 (Cranston, West Warwick) and a millennial activist, argued in front of the council, “As a Traffic Safety Commission member, I see this as a traffic safety issue. I see it everyday as I drive through Garden City, when I go out with my family. My wife has witnessed individuals that she has had to call the police on because they were falling into traffic. It is a real issue.”
The meeting chamber was filled by a split audience. During the meeting, Democratic Councilman Steven Stycos made a futile attempt to amend the entire rule and replace it instead with a committee to study the issue. His efforts were met with a mix of laughter and groans from ordinance supporters and cheers from the opposition in the gathered crowd.
The meeting was another battle in a long war between Rhode Island cities and the cabal of professional poverty advocates over the panhandling problem. While the opponents argued disingenuously that this is a personal freedom issue, shared community values triumphed over the radical progressive individualistic platform.
With battle lines drawn, it is doubtful that either side will be able to back down now, maybe leading to another lawsuit for the city. In April 2016, the City of Cranston was able to reach a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over a previous panhandling ban.
Voting in favor of the new Cranston ordinance were Councilmen Christopher G. Paplauskas, Kenneth J. Hopkins, Michael W. Favicchio, Trent M. Colford, Sr., and Council President Michael J. Farina. Voting against the ordinance were Councilmen John E. Lanni, Jr., Paul H. Archetto, Paul J. McAuley, and Steven A. Stycos.