Free Speech Press Release

06.23.11

Akron Panhandling Proposal Silences the Poor Under the Guise of Safety Concerns, Says ACLU

100 Foot Ban From Intersections Too Broad

AKRON – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio urged Akron City Council to reconsider a proposed ordinance that would ban panhandling within 100 feet of a traffic intersection. The ordinance redefines panhandling as those verbally asking for assistance, as well as those who hold signs. According to officials, those who are ticketed under the law would be charged with a misdemeanor and pay a $150 fine. Those who receive multiple citations will face increased penalties.

“Punishing someone for simply holding a sign is illegal, unnecessary and mean-spirited. This is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to ban all panhandling in Akron under the cover of safety concerns,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “Everyone wants safe streets, but there are already laws in place that prevent people from creating a safety problem on the roads. Under this proposed ordinance, there are few places to panhandle or hold signs asking for assistance in Akron.”

The ACLU of Ohio has previously challenged laws that unfairly restrict panhandling in cities across Ohio, including Dayton, Cincinnati, and Akron. Courts have consistently ruled that cities may not arbitrarily limit panhandling because it is protected free speech.

“The First Amendment applies to all Americans, regardless of their financial resources. Soliciting donations has time and again been classified as free speech, not as a business,” said Link. “While city leaders may want to hide those in need from public view, they cannot unreasonably limit anyone’s right to free speech.”

The legislation will be discussed at city council’s meeting on Monday, June 27 at 7:00 p.m. at Akron City Hall.

“The law creates far more problems than it solves,” concluded Link. “If city police officers must enforce the ordinance, they will be forced to use already strained resources patrolling intersections, ticketing panhandlers, and processing them in the justice system. In addition, city officials expect those who are ticketed to pay steep fines that they simply cannot afford. Rather than punishing those in need, city officials would be better served investing in community programs that would help these people get back on their feet.”