It seemed safe stroll a busy Philadelphia street on a sunny summer day, but as she crossed the street, a woman heard hollering behind her from a demented man. Before she could turn, a crashing blow to the head sent her staggering, says the Philadelphia Daily News. In another attack, a homeless man last week stabbed an intern from the district attorney’s office in broad daylight. A judge this week ordered the accused assailant to undergo a mental health evaluation and set his bail at $750,000.
Although Mayor John Street last summer ordered a crackdown on panhandlers on downtown streets, some merchants, residents, and workers say the city needs to work harder to clear out the sidewalk stalkers whose drug- or illness-induced derangement intimidates – and occasionally injures – tourists and streetwise locals alike. The city in 1998 enacted a sidewalk-behavior bill that banned begging for money aggressively, such as shouting at passers-by, and soliciting within eight feet of a building entrance. The law doesn’t address sidewalk loiterers who accost passers-by for reasons other than money. When sidewalk loiterers have apparent mental issues, officers are instructed to contact social- service agencies to send trained counselors to intervene. Civil libertarians object, saying people have a constitutional right to congregate on sidewalks. This month’s stabbing proves the need for a stiffer city sidewalk law, one city official said.