Arizona ACLU Fights Back; Santa Cruz ACLU Snores On…

NOTES BY NORSE:  The Santa Cruz ACLU, presented a year ago, with concerns about the criminalization of the homeless has taken made no public statements nor forwarded any requests to the northern California ACLU in search of legal assistance.  At the last meeting, Board of Directors member Mike Rotkin urged the board to be “friendlier” to the SCPD and other police agencies.  (The ACLU has made zero criticisms of the SCPD in the last decade to my knowledge).

Glenda, a woman in a wheelchair with a gaily colored sign, who can be regularly found on Pacific Avenue across from New Leaf Market, reports she was told by a police officer she could not panhandle on the sidewalk near the West-Side safeway because “neighbors had complained” and had to leave.

In spite of the ratsnest of restrictions passed by succeeding City Councils, eager to drive visible poverty out of sight and pander to noxious NIMBY’s, it is quite legal to peacefully panhandle on the sidewalks if one is 14′ from a building, 14′ from an intersection, 14′ from a bench, etc.  If Glenda’s account is accurate then the SCPD is not only enforcing cruel and unconstitutional ordinances, but also spreading terror under color of law.

If you see a poor person being harassed for panhandling, please pull out your cellphone and video the incident, then post it on you-tube with a link to www.indybay.org/santacruz .

ACLU-AZ Files Lawsuit Against City of Flagstaff for Arresting Poor, Homeless Panhandlers

Press Releases

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Contact:
Phoenix: Alessandra Soler, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 773-6006 (o); (602) 301-3705 (c); asoler@acluaz.org
Flagstaff:  Mik Jordahl at (928) 221-6342 (c) or (928) 214-0942

FLAGSTAFF – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona today filed a lawsuit on behalf of an elderly Hopi woman who was arrested for begging in Flagstaff and a volunteer-run organization that feeds the hungry, claiming the City of Flagstaff’s effort to rid city streets of beggars is unconstitutional and criminalizes peaceful panhandling in public places.

“Begging is not a crime,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda. “To appease local business interests, Flagstaff has sacrificed the fundamental rights of individuals and is throwing people in jail simply for asking for a dollar or two for food. Numerous courts throughout the country have ruled that peacefully asking for a donation in a public area is protected speech under the First Amendment.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of 77-year-old Marlene Baldwin, who is 4’8’’tall, disabled and losing her eyesight.  She was arrested on February 22nd for “loitering to beg” after asking an undercover Flagstaff Police Officer if he could spare $1.25 for bus fare.

In addition to Baldwin, the ACLU also is representing Robert George and Andrew R. Wilkenson, both of whom were threatened with arrest and are now afraid to exercise their right to peacefully solicit, and Food Not Bombs, a volunteer-run organization that regularly feeds the homeless in local city parks.  Several of its members have been arrested for requesting donations from passersby.

“While anti-aggressive panhandling laws banning harassing solicitations have been found constitutional, neither the state nor cities can legally outlaw peaceful begging,” said Mik Jordahl, a Flagstaff attorney who is serving as co-counsel in today’s lawsuit. “When the most downtrodden among us are arrested and punished for the peaceful content of their speech, then none of our free speech rights are guaranteed.”

In 2008, the City of Flagstaff adopted a policy in cooperation with local businesses – called “Operation 40” – to remove targeted individuals from downtown areas by jailing them early in the day on “loitering to beg” charges. Defendants Flagstaff City Attorney Michelle D’Andrea and Police Chief Kevin Treadway utilized an antiquated state statute – A.R.S. § 13-2905(A)(3) – that makes it a crime to “loiter to beg” in all public places, including sidewalks, thoroughfares and parks, at all times during the day or night. Between June 2012 and May 2013, 135 arrests were made by the Flagstaff Police Department under this state statute.

The ACLU is arguing that the City of Flagstaff is violating people’s free speech rights by arresting them for peacefully soliciting donations in public.  The lawsuit also argues the state statute itself is unconstitutional and must be enjoined by the Court because it is directed at and criminalizes constitutionally-protected expression.

The Arizona Court of Appeals and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have struck down similar laws attempting to outlaw the solicitation of money, including a Phoenix city ordinance.

Other attorneys on this case are Kelly Flood of the ACLU of Arizona and Robert S. Malone of Flagstaff.

To read the legal complaint, go to http://www.acluaz.org/issues/press-releases/2013-06/3853 and click on link near the end of the story.

 

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