I’ve been going for many years to the Paperback Bookshop at the east end of Bourke Street. For at least the past three, an elderly down and out chap named Tony has been sitting just outside it most days, doing crosswords and with a hat out for any donations people might make.
Past few months, the Victoria Police have been hassling him – I suppose there are some laws against begging, although with the number of unfortunate people with signs asking for help, who are more unkempt or impolite than Tony, perhaps if the police are really serious about hassling beggars, this would explain why they do not enough time to tackle outer suburban teenage gangs, street assaults, and the obvious ice problem in North Richmond….
What I find sad and a bit appalling is that Tony had to front court on Thursday due to having been charged by the police over sitting harmlessly in Bourke Street with his hat out. Happily, the magistrate looked a little askance at whether this was an appropriate use of the court or the Victoria Police’s time, and fined him the nominal sum of $20.
Tony is a soft target, someone who, like jay walkers, might be slightly on the wrong side of some minor legal prohibition, but who is harmless. Why are the police picking on him? The centre of Melbourne is a place where a lot of other, much more serious and dangerous, crimes happen on a daily basis. At the very least, these over zealous constables should be pondering at their good fortune at being gainfully employed, rather than citing some elderly chap who has good spirits despite experiencing a whole lot more of life’s misfortunes. As medieval churchmen might say, Dei Gratia, there but the for Grace of God….