Thursday, May 17, 2012

Court date set for anti-panhandling lawsuit against City of Arcata

Richard Salzman stand across from City Hall in violation of the current law.

Arcata, CA–Is it illegal to merely hold up a sign asking for money?

Arcata thinks it is, but a citizen lawsuit contends the city overstepped its bounds and its panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

The free speech trial is set to begin at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23rd, in Humboldt County Superior Courtroom 8–and the public is invited to attend.

On March 17th 2012 The Arcata City Council adopted the unlawful panhandling ordinance. As written, the ordinance makes it a crime to merely hold up a sign asking for money. By denying citizens constitutional right of free speech, this lawsuit filed by Richard Salzman contends the City Council overstepped its authority.

Salzman is being represent in this matter by Peter Martin. Both Mr. Martin and Mr. Salzman are board members of the Humboldt Civil Liberties Defense Fund which was created to defend against incursion of the civil liberties of all citizens of Humboldt County.

“If first they silence the poor and the homeless, and we say nothing, who will speak up when they try to silence rest of us?” Salzman asked.

He noted that the section of the ordinance against “aggressive panhandling,” including blocking one’s path, any physical contact or yelling, would be left unchallenged by this legal action.

Specifically, Mr. Salzman contends that AMC Sections 4282B, 4282C, 4282D, 4282E, 4282F and 4282G are unconstitutional. The overall impact of these sections is to criminalize begging in a significant percentage of the City.

Begging is a charitable solicitation. The First Amendment clearly protects charitable solicitations. No distinction of constitutional dimension exists between soliciting funds for oneself and for charity. The fact that a beggar keeps the money she receives does not strip the speech of First Amendment protection. A speaker’s rights are not lost merely because compensation is received; a speaker is no less a speaker because she is paid to speak.
To be lawful, the ordinance must serve a compelling interest that is narrowly drawn to achieve its end. The City’s compelling interest is well-served by the ordinance’s ban on aggressive panhandling, to which Mr. Salzman does not take exception. Mr. Salzman is of the view that ordinance’s ban on begging is not “narrowly tailored.” To achieve the City’s goal of criminalizing the speech of a few beggars, the City has criminalized all charitable solicitations for money. 

The picture above illustrates the problem with the Ordinance. It is OK to hold a sign offer to sell pizza, but Mr. Salman’s sign is illegal.

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