Fans of unnecessary and pointless laws, of which there are quite a few in the city's print and broadcast media, were exuberant this weekend as the smoking ban in public places went into effect. Never mind that the ban is largely symbolic; these self-appointed pundits couldn't stop patting themselves on the back.
One would have thought, from reading their posts, that every gathering place in the city was full of chain-smokers and that dozens of cases of cancer were prevented this weekend alone. Others proudly noted that Indianapolis has joined the list of cities that are stampeding to make more and more things illegal.
As the architect of meaningless laws, the city government stepped up its game and showed everyone that they, in fact, Really Mean Business by bolting warning signs onto streetlight posts downtown.
In official, menacing-looking lettering, the signs note that "City Ordinance Sec. 407-102 FORBIDS APPROACHING PEOPLE FOR MONEY." Then, in parentheses, just in case someone feels like testing the city's resolve, "($2,500 FINE)."
In other words, don't beg for cash unless you're confident of getting more than $2,500 from the person you are (now illegally) approaching for money.
But wait, there's more. The sign isn't done threatening you yet. "City Ordinance 987-106 FORBIDS 'UNLICENSED' TRANSIENT MERCHANT ACTIVITY ($200 FINE)." The use of quotation marks here is confusing.
The sign ends with advice to the good people of the city: "IF YOU ARE APPROACHED FOR EITHER - PLEASE REPORT IT. CALL IMPD AT 327-3811." If you see something, say something.
The sign says nothing about being approached for cigarettes, which actually happens more than being solicited for money in the area around Monument Circle. And the people who sit by the downtown CVS stores with signs saying "HOMELESS GOD BLESS" ask for both.
Either the law means nothing or people can't read, because I was asked for money and cigarettes literally dozens of times while walking downtown last week, just as I have every weekday for the past five years. And the illicit reefer market doesn't seem to have slowed down yet either.
I'm confused. We can't smoke in public, we can't ask a stranger for bus fare, but we can ask for cigarettes. And what about the brown boxes perched around downtown asking for donations for the homeless? Are they now illegal too?
Or are they really Hunger Games-like challenges to test the lock-picking skills of our city's homeless? If so, I applaud the idea.
Meanwhile, if we're in the business on stamping out everything that might offend or make uncomfortable any citizen or visitor to our city, let's pass some laws against offensive and irritating noises.
If you live, as we do, adjacent to a major street in the city, then your walls shake every few minutes due to some idiot's subwoofers pounding out hip-hop music at top volume. The music itself can hardly be heard but the pounding of the bass is enough to knock pictures off our walls. Wait. There is a law against this, kind of. Ordinance 225, Section 18, Article 1 of the Indianapolis City Code, as passed on Dec. 11, 1995, expressly outlaws this sort of thing. It's against the law to "make, continue or cause to be made or continued any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise, or any noise which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health and peace or safety of others within the city." Sounds good to me.
Then it outlines 19 different ways one can do this, including car radios. (And if you have a circus calliope, don't even try it, Krusty. You're covered too, in Sec. 18-2.)
And, in fact, a skilled prosecutor could argue that these extra-loud cars could qualify as "non- commercial sound trucks" under the ordinance, which means they're breaking two laws when they keep us awake at night.
To boot, the noise being produced from these cars is illegal if it's "profane, lewd, indecent, slanderous, subversive or unlawful," which not only knocks out Lil Wayne but also Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
I'm usually against using brute police force to quash formerly legal activity but if we're going to outlaw smoking, begging and even so-called "pest birds" downtown (there's a sign for them too, although it's not translated into Sparrow or Pigeon), then let's get at the people who disturb my peace regularly.
We can't keep people from buying stockpiles of dangerous weapons or from cooking crystal meth in their houses or even guarantee fair elections in America but we're now supposed to stop smoking, make sure everyone is wearing seatbelts and keep others from using freedom of speech to ask if they can bum a dime.
The only thing protecting us all is that the police presence downtown, except near the cafeteria at the Chase Tower at lunchtime, is almost nonexistent, so nobody's going to be enforcing these laws anyway unless they occur near the salad bar at Urban Market.
Good thing we have no other problems to worry about than smokers and homeless people; otherwise the city would really be screwed.