In 2005, the Grapevine editors split with the vendors over the Cleveland panhandling ordinance. The vendors and Vendor Representative to the Editorial Board supported the legislation, while the editors opposed it. While no one likes to see the realities of poverty in America, both our vendors and editors are united in our opposition to the Akron ordinance restricting panhandling. It’s troubling to see a person in need begging you for money, but we believe in the freedom to ask for money and the freedom to refuse to give money.
This new law is the most restrictive law in the United States. Coming from a traditionally progressive city, it is amazing that city leaders would restrict speech so significantly. They have implemented a finger-printing and registration requirement for everyone who wants to say the words, “Can you spare a dollar” on the streets. They have also placed an outright ban on the requests for help around all tourist attractions and even CHURCHES and schools.
Not only have they shredded free speech, but they have prevented the free exercise of religion. The editor’s stand together to oppose this legislation. We raise the same issues that we raised with regard to the Cleveland ordinance, but there are both practical and economic reasons to oppose the strict Akron law. First, Akron already has a poor panhandling law that does not work. The existing law does not work, as evidenced by the large number of complaints brought up at the hearing. Almost all were actually covered by the previous panhandling law. The previous law regulated deceptive fund raising practices, aggressive behavior, and restrictions on where a person can ask for money. The law did not work and so legislators brought out the big guns with registration requirements.
Our second objection to this new law is that certain public streets were closed off to panhandlers because a popular landmark sat on these spots. This attempts to choke off the panhandler, by placing the best “markets” off-limits. The flaw is that either a police officer will have to witness the request for money or a pedestrian will have to file a police report and show up for a court hearing. It is certainly easier for the pedestrian to give some spare change so the panhandler will go away than to follow the legal process.
Finally, the reason that both vendors and management of the Grapevine are unified in our opposition to this law is the requirement of a publicly issued license to panhandlers. We do not believe that it is good public policy to professionalize those who beg for money. Used car salesmen, mortgage lenders, mechanics, security guards, and shelter workers are not licensed by the city, but the person who asks for money on the street needs a license? There are very skilled workers who are not regulated by government, and other jobs that, with abuse, can easily force citizens into bankruptcy and these professions do not require a license to practice. It would be very difficult for a street newspaper to start up in Akron using a privately issued license when panhandlers will have a government-issued license.
We believe that like the previous Akron law and like nearly every law directed at panhandlers in the country, this new attempt will fail. The police testified in Akron that there were 5 to 7 panhandlers in downtown Akron during the day. Lawmakers passed a law to curtail the menace of 5 to 7 people. We are confident that panhandlers will figure out a way around this new law and the city will have to look at a new way to harass beggars.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH Cleveland Ohio July 2006