In January 2004, Eddie Wise was sitting in the holding pen of Bronx Civil Court, waiting to be arraigned after his latest arrest, when he spotted Lisa C. Cartier Giroux, a lawyer he knew from Bronx Defenders, a non-profit organization that represents the indigent. Wise got Giroux’s attention and, from his holding pen, began proclaiming his innocence. Earlier that month, the 44-year-old homeless African-American man had been arrested on Fordham Road in the Bronx. His arrest report accused him of “engaging numerous pedestrians in conversation with his hand out requesting money.” The exact charge facing Wise, who concealed his slight build beneath hoodies and baggy jeans and covered his cornrows with a do-rag, was a violation of New York’s law against loitering “in a public place for the purpose of begging.” In his mind, though, he wasn’t loitering at all. He was working. You see, Wise titled himself a professional street hustler even though most of us would call what he did for a living begging. He was the guy lingering in front of the liquor store asking you for a “reasonable donation” on your way out, the guy promising to “protect” your car from vandals in exchange for a “tip.” Despite a recurring drug problem, he was able-bodied. He’d held regular jobs. Begging simply allowed him to make his own hours and be his own boss.
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