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Opening Arguments

A tale of two cities

Madison, Wis., leanrs a "reap what you sow" lesson:

The slaying of a college student in a downtown neighborhood frequented by beggars has forced this liberal city to ask a difficult question: Has Madison been too nice to the homeless?

A debate over the city's friendly treatment of its transient population had been under way for months, but last week's killing of University of Wisconsin student Brittany Zimmermann started something of a backlash against the homeless.

Police have arrested dozens of transients on unrelated charges as part of the investigation, but none are considered suspects in the death. The city also announced plans Wednesday to confront problems at a nearby park where the homeless congregate, although those efforts were in the works before the murder.

And in Indianapolis, Mayor Greg Ballard wants to chase the pandhandlers out of downtown because -- here's a shock -- the people who live there "are tired of it." This elicits criticism from the usual suspects:

Andrea De Mink Kaufmann, executive director of The PourHouse, an Indianapolis homeless advocacy group, said aggressive, professional panhandlers do give the others a bad name.

"But if someone is sitting there quietly, that's their right," Kaufmann said. "To say it's ugly and we want it out of view, I have an issue with that from a humanitarian point of view."

The story also quotes Chris Hall, who has made $20 to $30 a day for three hours of panhandling  downtown for the last eight or nine years. What a hardluck story!

Many people can identify many turning points when the serious national discussion on important issues went from problematic to impossible. I mark one of those points was the moment when "the homeless" became our generic description for the diverse collection of people on the streets.