Last month, four Chicago panhandlers sued the city’s police department for arresting or fining them on numerous occasions. The lawsuit claims that the men were harassed and singled out, and that the city’s ordinance against panhandling violates freedom of speech and 14th Amendment rights. Also, in recent months, the Atlanta City Council voted 12-3 to ban panhandling in the central part of the city known as the “tourist triangle.” American City & County asked readers of its weekly e-mail newsletter what restrictions, if any, they believe local governments should place on panhandling. The following are some of the responses:
“I’ve been to Chicago numerous times and have been very impressed with their ability to control panhandling on Michigan Avenue. I don’t mind panhandlers if they allow you to make the decision on whether or not to give. However, overly aggressive panhandlers hurt everyone in the long run by driving away tourists and helping create a negative attitude in the people who are being asked to give. I think panhandlers should be registered and monitored for the good of both sides.”
— Curtis Davis, assistant city manager, Johnstown, Pa.
“The constitution protects the right to free speech but does not require anyone to listen. The constitution intends to allow for equality in the pursuit of happiness but was also written at a time when that pursuit included working to provide for the family and included debtor’s prison. We all pay a bunch of taxes to maintain social agencies, there are missions, soup kitchens, etc. Panhandling is unnecessary to survival.”
— Jim Jenkins, city manager, Springfield, Mich.
“Begging is commercial speech, which hasn’t traditionally had all the protections accorded personal speech. Perhaps set an area aside for beggars and license the activity. After all, legitimate protesters are often confined to a fenced area, and that is for political speech. It is well established that municipalities can abate nuisances and control nuisance behavior.”
— Bruce Bibee, senior systems analyst, Los Angeles