Man Sues Over Panhandling Citation, Says It Violates Rights

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

ACLU launches first of a series of lawsuits against criminalizing poverty.

CRANSTON, RI—The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the city of Cranston to challenge an anti-panhandling ordinance on behalf of a disabled man who was cited for standing on the side of the road with a cardboard sign asking for money in June.The Rhode island ACLU today launched the “first of a series” of lawsuits aimed at the current trend of municipalities to criminalize poverty and homelessness.

On occasion, he’s stood on a median on Plainfield Pike that reads “disabled, need help, God bless.” In June, a Cranston office gave Monteiro a court summons and said he could be arrested for violating the ordinance. It just doesn’t seem right, all them years I did it before and nobody bothered me…now all of a sudden it’s not right?” Monteiro says he has periodically asked for donations at the intersection in Cranston for years, but stopped this summer after he was cited by police, then told by a judge not to return. Attorney Marc Gursky, representing Monteiro, says the ordinance prohibits individuals from soliciting for money, but is selectively enforced against people like Monteiro, and not against fire fighters, cheerleaders or little league teams.

ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown said at a Wednesday press conference in Providence said that the police department only has enforced the ordinance against people “trying to scrape by” while allowing local sports teams to stand on the sidewalk and collect money. “As written, Cranston’s ordinance violates everyone’s right to ask for donations, whether they’re firefighters or little leaguers, but it’s especially unfair to people who are homeless or otherwise in need. In 2008, he was awarded Social Security disability benefits, which he relies on to pay his rent at Cathedral Square, a low-income housing community in Providence, among other living expenses. Steve Brown, executive director of the RI ACLU, said that there is no timeline on when future lawsuits will be undertaken on this issue, but that Providence and Pawtucket both have similar ordinances, and both cities could face such lawsuits. Finding plaintiffs is difficult, because people in Monteiro’s position face a lot of discrimination and it takes real courage to commit to such a suit.

Police can threaten to arrest the poor but smile as the Edgewood Eagles Cheerleading Squad extend their donation baskets and wave their pom-poms, she said. He hasn’t returned to his spot since the judge’s order, and as a result, “I have to do without… Edit: Shortly after the post went up, I was asked how someone might get some money to Michael to help him while he’s waiting for this case to resolve. If a person can display a sign saying ‘Vote for Hillary’ and solicit votes, why can’t I display my sign?” The ordinance in Cranston dates back several years and was crafted to respond to increased complaints about panhandlers at particular intersections across the city. Supporters of the ordinance argued that they believe panhandlers are taking advantage of people’s good will, might be using the money to buy drugs or alcohol and create an uncomfortable situation when young children are riding in the car and ask “why is that person standing there?” City officials on Wednesday afternoon said they had not yet been served with the lawsuit. In a brief statement, the city solicitor said “please be advised that my office is presently researching the issues raised by your claim of unconstitutionality.”

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