Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Akron Assault on Free Speech

Most Restrictive Law on Panhandling

The City of Akron has announced their intention to attempt to eliminate panhandling within the Akron city limits. We always think of Akron as a progressive leader with a fair and even handed Mayor until now. This law is the most offensive attempt to make it illegal to ask for help in Ohio. As chair of the National Coalition for the Homeless Civil Rights Committee, I am able to see many of the laws directed at homeless people in the U.S. The Akron anti-panhandling law is one of the most severe that I have ever seen. They restrict where speech is free and then they require a license to exercise constitutionally protected speech. The most ridiculous aspect of this law is that those with a criminal background will be denied a license.

A few quick thoughts about this offensive law:
1. Since it should be a high hurdle to restrict speech (fire in a crowded movie theatre), then what is the public purpose for restricting speech around financial institutions and certain downtown landmarks? If I wore a shirt around Akron that said "financial institution" would that force panhandlers to stay 20 feet away?

2. Did anyone see the irony in preventing people from asking for money 20 feet from the places where money is kept?

3. Most of the homeless providers in Akron are supporting this legislation including the Salvation Army and the Alcohol and Drug Board. How much of a sell out do you have to be to throw your own clients under the bus in order to remain at peace with your city government? I mean these guys have a job because there are desperate people in Akron who need money, and then they are supporting making these guys criminals. It is sickening. At least the Cleveland service providers said nothing last year when Cleveland City Council was passing the panhandling ordinance last year.

4. Are the police just hanging out and looking for work? How do they have time to do background checks on potential panhandlers and then checking those licenses on the streets?

5. This legislation is modeled after the one in Cincinnati. What city in the United States models itself after the notoriously racist city of Cincinnati?

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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