BAN ON PUSHY PANHANDLERS QUI­ETLY REPEALED: ‘THIS IS AN IM­POR­TANT VIC­TORY’

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­[email protected]­times.com | @fspiel­man

Home­less ad­vo­cates and civil lib­er­ties groups on Thurs­day ap­plauded Chicago for qui­etly re­peal­ing what crit­ics called an “un­con­sti­tu­tional” ban on ag­gres­sive pan­han­dling.

The Chicago Coali­tion for the Home­less, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Illi­nois and the Na­tional Law Cen­ter on Home­less­ness and Poverty had all put Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ad­min­is­tra­tion on no­tice.

It was part of a na­tional cam­paign aimed at re­vers­ing lo­cal laws viewed as “dis­crim­i­na­tory and un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

Their mid-Au­gust let­ter warned that Chicago’s ban on ag­gres­sive pan­han­dling served “no com­pelling state in­ter­est.”

“Dis­taste for a cer­tain type of speech or a cer­tain type of speaker is not even a le­git­i­mate state in­ter­est, let alone a com­pelling one,” the let­ter stated.

The or­di­nance was repealed with­out fan­fare at the Nov. 14 City Coun­cil meet­ing. Ad­vo­cates were no­ti­fied of the re­peal two weeks later.

On Thurs­day, the groups is­sued a press re­lease tak­ing a bow for a change that could lead to a more ag­gres­sive pan­han­dling, par­tic­u­larly in the down­town area.

“Chicago’s pan­han­dling or­di­nance was ac­tively en­forced, so this is an im­por­tant vic­tory for peo­ple in Chicago who pan­han­dle as a means of sur­vival,” Diane O’Connell, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the Chicago Coali­tion for the Home­less, was quoted as say­ing.

“We have spo­ken to hun­dreds of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness who have been tick­eted or ar­rested for vi­o­lat­ing this or­di­nance — locked up or charged fines they can­not pay for noth­ing more than ex­er­cis­ing their First Amend­ment rights. The city was forced to rec­og­nize that ev­ery­one has the right to ask for help.”

Re­becca Glen­berg, se­nior staff coun­sel for the ACLU, noted that 55 cities across the na­tion have ei­ther repealed their pan­han­dling or­di­nances or had them over­turned by courts since 2015.

That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court “de­manded closer ex­am­i­na­tion of laws reg­u­lat­ing speech based on con­tent.”

“Our Con­sti­tu­tion does not per­mit a lower stan­dard of pro­tec­tion for speech sim­ply be­cause the speaker is some­one in need of as­sis­tance,” Glen­berg was quoted as say­ing.

Bill McCaf­frey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Depart­ment, is­sued a state­ment say­ing the city “de­ter­mined that the sec­tion cover­ing ag­gres­sive pan­han­dling was un­nec­es­sary and that pub­lic safety re­mains fully pro­tected by other sec­tions of the mu­nic­i­pal code.”

In 2004, with sto­ries from mus­cled and threat­ened vic­tims ring­ing in their ears, Chicago al­der­men voted to fill a two-year le­gal void that had left Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers with­out a weapon against ag­gres­sive pan­han­dling.

The In­di­anapo­lis-style crack­down was ap­proved, only af­ter then-Ald. Fred­drenna Lyle (6th) re­ceived as­sur­ances that the or­di­nance would not be used in­dis­crim­i­nately to sweep “un­de­sir­ables” off the streets.

At Lyle’s re­quest, the City Coun­cil agreed to ex­tend to bus stops a 10-foot ra­dius that was al­ready in place to ban pan­han­dling near ATMs, banks and cur­rency ex­changes.

“I’m con­cerned that, to pro­tect the rights of peo­ple to walk down the street and be free from threats and ver­bal abuse, we do not be­gin to go down the slip­pery slope where we’re tar­get­ing peo­ple based upon their fi­nan­cial sta­tus — their look,” Lyle said then.

Sheri Meck­len­burg, gen­eral coun­sel to then-Po­lice Supt. Phil Cline, as­sured al­der­men that po­lice of­fi­cers would not “use this to get peo­ple who look un­de­sir­able out of the way. They’re go­ing to use it to re­spond to cit­i­zen com­plaints that we have been get­ting and to pro­tect our cit­i­zens and make them feel safe on the streets.”

Meck­len­burg also promised that po­lice of­fi­cers would re­ceive ad­e­quate train­ing at roll calls, just as they did be­fore a re­vised gang loi­ter­ing or­di­nance took ef­fect.

Al­der­men acted af­ter hear­ing pan­han­dling hor­ror sto­ries from women who live and work in the down­town area.

They talked about be­ing fol­lowed down the street and called “b----” and “whore” when they re­fused to open their wal­lets. They told of hav­ing their paths blocked even when trav­el­ing with chil­dren in strollers.

SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO

A city pan­han­dling ban was qui­etly lifted last month.

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