Local ministry objects to man's "aggressive panhandling" arrest
Mendon John Price
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
At least one local group is angry about the recent arrest of a Chattanooga panhandler.
The man was charged under a new state law to target "aggressive panhandling." But a ministry group says the city should be targeting poverty instead of panhandlers.
"I understand there are people in need throughout the country and Chattanooga is no different," Bob Doak said, president of the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau.
Bob Doak at the CVB says panhandling has long been an issue in the city. Now a recent state law makes "aggressive panhandling" a crime and it doesn't sit well with some.
"I mean I think the word aggressive itself is offensive," said Brian Merritt.
Brian Merritt and others at the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center are condemning the recent arrest of a panhandler outside the Tivoli Theater downtown. His name is Mendon John Price. Many in the community know him as "John John" but the police know him as a "nuisance panhandler." He has a lengthy criminal history in Hamilton County and has been cited for panhandling in the past. Now there's an online fundraiser to help pay for Price's legal fees. Merritt calls him gentle, respectful and kind.
"That is far from the biggest problem we have in our downtown area is someone that is poor and asking for money," Merritt said. "This is a pretty sad reflection on a state that says they're really into The Bible."
Merritt says the City shouldn't value a tourist's dollar over the lives of its own citizens. Doak says panhandling affects not just tourists.
"People should be able to come downtown and enjoy themselves but not be subjected to aggressive panhandling," Doak said. "Aggressive panhandling is a problem that we should not have to subject ourselves to."
Price will be in court Friday for his aggressive panhandling charge. If he's found guilty under the new law, he could spend up to 30 days in jail and pay a $50 fine. A second offense could mean up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.
In a news release, Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center Co-Director Beth Foster said the ministry is planning further action to support Price and to raise awareness about the treatment of panhandlers and poor and homeless people in the tourist district.