Ryan Bray was on his way home on Sunday when he had yet another encounter — one of five or six he said he has each week— with an aggressive panhandler on the corner of Manatee Avenue West and 75th Street West.
As the panhandler approached his vehicle this time, Bray offered him a job doing some yard work for $15 an hour.
“He said, ‘Absolutely not, I’m not doing that,’” Bray said. “I didn’t give him any money and rolled up my window and he kicked my tire.”
Fed up, Bray drove home and made up a sign of his own that read, “I offered him $15 an hour to do yard work for me and he refused. If we as a community stop paying them, they will leave our neighborhood!”
Bray took the sign back to the intersection and for the next three hours shadowed the panhandler to let motorists know that the man begging for their hard-earned money wasn’t willing to work for his own.
Bray said the intersection is worked by a group of homeless who take turns and that the same group has been working the area for over a year.
“Every time anyone comes down 75th they are there,” Bray said. “None of us want them in our neighborhood. They get irate and curse at you if you don’t give them any money. One guy was yelling, ‘I’ll rape your mother and kill your wife.’”
Bray said the only reason the same group of people would be begging at the same intersection for this long is if they are getting what they want.
“It’s not the way I wanted to spend my Sunday,” Bray said. “I care about our homeless veterans and such but these people yell profanities at you if don’t give them money. So the only way to get them to leave is people need to stop giving them money. We’re tired of it.”
Law enforcement can’t do a lot about the situation.
Last summer, Manatee County — and subsequently the city of Bradenton — were forced to revise their panhandling ordinances in after an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Miami’s panhandling ban was unconstitutional.
The court ruled that the city’s ordinance violated an individual’s right to free speech.
Apparentl,y the homeless got the message.
According to a Bradenton police incident report, the panhandler, identified as Terry Walker, complained to police “that another man was following,” him. Police said Walker, a “known transient, told police he was “exercising his Constitutional rights of freedom of speech by asking for money from people by holding up a cardboard sign.”
Police told Walker that Bray had the same right to exercise his freedom of speech with his own sign.
Bray said Bradenton police were present for part of the time he was there, largely to ensure the panhandler didn’t retaliate against Bray. Officers also warned Bray about stalking the man because Walker was complaining to them.
It didn’t deter Bray.
“I shut down his panhandling business for three hours,” Bray said. “He didn’t get a dime.”
Bray posted his story on Facebook and the comments quickly poured onto his post.
“I’ve also given so-called homeless people food and they have thrown it back at me and said they’d rather have the money,” wrote Michael Holland.
Debbie Hoff-Howard responded with an even more disturbing experience about another panhandler refusing groceries from someone and then the “same guy beat on my car window demanding I give him my Apple watch.”
Law enforcement isn’t completely without tools. Berating motorists and/or making contact with a vehicle and threatening someone is a crime — and panhandlers are not allowed to impede the flow of traffic. Motorists encountering aggressive panhandlers crossing the line are encouraged to contact law enforcement, but they must be willing to press charges.
Officials have long warned against giving panhandlers money and have the “Call 2-1-1” program in place to ensure those in need who are genuinely seeking help are connected to the appropriate resources.
Bray said there are at least 10 other people vowing to go out with him the next time to help convince motorists to stop giving money to panhandlers who refuse to work for their own.