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Current Events & Hot Topics Current Events & Hot Topics

Do you think begging is a crime?

Posted by on Aug. 16, 2013 at 9:08 AM
  • 58 Replies
1 mom liked this

Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Michigan’s Anti-Begging Statute as Unconstitutional
August 14, 2013

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – In a victory for free speech, the federal court of appeals ruled unanimously today that Michigan’s state law criminalizing peaceful panhandling in all public places is unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan first filed the lawsuit in September 2011 against the state and the City of Grand Rapids. The City of Grand Rapids had enforced the law 399 times between January 1, 2008 and May 24, 2011.

“This decision reaffirms the principle that our Constitution applies equally to everyone, whether poor or rich,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “Jail time is a harsh price to pay for holding up a sign or simply asking for spare change.”

The ACLU of Michigan argued that the state’s anti-begging law is unconstitutional because peaceful panhandling – like requests for charity by nonprofits, sport teams, or the Salvation Army -- is protected speech under the First Amendment. The appeals court agreed with the ACLU affirming the lower court’s decision, stating:

“Begging, or the soliciting of alms, is a form of solicitation that the First Amendment protects.”

The Court also held that “Michigan’s interest in preventing fraud can be better served by a statute that, instead of directly prohibiting begging, is more narrowly tailored to the specific conduct, such as fraud, that Michigan seeks to prohibit.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Grand Rapids residents who were repeatedly arrested or ticketed by police for violating the state’s blanket ban on begging in public. James Speet receives food stamps, and also collects bottles, cans and scrap metal to survive. Speet has often sought and found odd jobs by holding up a sign in public that read “Need Job, God Bless.” Speet, who was prosecuted multiple times under the unconstitutional state law, was arrested in July 2011 for holding up the sign in Grand Rapids. View the sign that Speet was arrested for holding.

“I see people holding up signs throughout the city advertising restaurants or protesting and they didn’t get arrested or ticketed,” said Speet. “I don’t understand why my sign was any different just because I’m homeless and looking for a job.”

Ernest Sims is a veteran who relies on a $260 disability assistance check and food stamps for survival. When unable to afford his expenses, he asked people for “spare change to help a veteran” on the public streets of Grand Rapids. On July 4, 2011, a Grand Rapids police officer arrested Sims, who was asking for change for bus fare. Sims pleaded guilty and was sentenced to $100 or two days in jail. Video: Watch Sims discuss his arrest and experience with poverty.

This is not the first time the ACLU has raised concerns about anti-begging policies in Michigan. In 2011, the ACLU of Michigan successfully lobbied Royal Oak officials to repeal an unconstitutional ordinance that similarly punished peaceful panhandling on public sidewalks. The ACLU has also urged Birmingham, Taylor, and Lincoln Park to repeal their anti-begging ordinances which, like the state law struck down today, ban all begging in public places.

In addition to Aukerman, Speet and Sims are represented by Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan.

Read today's court decision ruling that begging is free speech.

Read the lower court's decision.

Read the ACLU of Michigan’s complaint in this case.

by on Aug. 16, 2013 at 9:08 AM
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Replies (1-10):
Rubberbiscuit
by Bronze Member on Aug. 16, 2013 at 9:54 AM

No, I don't think it should be a crime.  If you don't like it, don't give them money.  Simple.  Some of us aren't bothered by beggars and don't mind giving a few dollars to a homeless person.

snookyfritz
by Platinum Member on Aug. 16, 2013 at 9:59 AM
5 moms liked this

No, it should not be a crime.  The crime is that we don't have the facilities and resources to deal with the alcohol abuse and mental illness that plaques this community.

I give money to panhandlers, when I have it.  I often don't have cash, but if I'm going to the city, I make sure I have some.

alc4evermom
by on Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:06 AM

I live not far from there, and beggars approach us on a daily basis.  The homeless population in this part of Michigan is unbelievable.  I don't personally feel it should be a crime;  I think we would be wasting tax payers money on convicting the thousands of beggars.  If a cop was to issue a citation to these individuals, the courses will never see the money.  

I have done a lot of volunteering at the homeless shelter;  for the individuals who are not suffering from a severe mental illness (and trust me, I've seen some very unfortuante people who didnt choose thier state of mind enroll in programs there to better their lives)----it seems like the people who actually approach us on the street have potential to change. That's the real crime.  

alc4evermom
by on Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:11 AM


We have those facilities here.  I went through a community mental health and substance abuse program and found that out of the the countless amounts of people who are given the opportunity, only a handful really desire the change.  People relapse on purpose to keep collecting the assistance and the government baby sitters.  There is no reason in this day and age in the state of Michigan to not get clean and sober.  

Quoting snookyfritz:

No, it should not be a crime.  The crime is that we don't have the facilities and resources to deal with the alcohol abuse and mental illness that plaques this community.

I give money to panhandlers, when I have it.  I often don't have cash, but if I'm going to the city, I make sure I have some.



prommy
by Silver Member on Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:13 AM

 I don't think it's a crime. I try to help when I can but I'm not one who goes into "The City" very often. Our biggest city is pretty small, it's like a mini Boston and they just passed an ordinance that if a person who is begging is drunk or otherwise impaired they need to leave the "marketplace" for an hour before they are allowed to return and panhandle. This area is so small that this is actually enforceable. This sounds fair to me.

stringtheory
by Gold Member on Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:16 AM
1 mom liked this
No. The OP makes most of the points I would have, especially the solicitor comparison. What's the difference between the young financial planner that knocked on my door to give me his business card and the panhandler I walk by downtown? Well, one wanted a lot more of my money. I also used to get harassed by people with petitions at grocery stores (I think the rules on that in my new hometown are a bit stricter, or people just don't have as much to petition).
snookyfritz
by Platinum Member on Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:25 AM
3 moms liked this

Not a horribly compassionate view or one of individual circumstance. 


Quoting alc4evermom:


We have those facilities here.  I went through a community mental health and substance abuse program and found that out of the the countless amounts of people who are given the opportunity, only a handful really desire the change.  People relapse on purpose to keep collecting the assistance and the government baby sitters.  There is no reason in this day and age in the state of Michigan to not get clean and sober.  

Quoting snookyfritz:

No, it should not be a crime.  The crime is that we don't have the facilities and resources to deal with the alcohol abuse and mental illness that plaques this community.

I give money to panhandlers, when I have it.  I often don't have cash, but if I'm going to the city, I make sure I have some.





Della529
by Matlock on Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:38 AM
2 moms liked this

 If it's a crime, what was it during the Depression?

UpSheRises
by Platinum Member on Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:40 AM

 Would you feel differently if they were in your neighborhood? Like directly across the street from your house, in a residential neighborhood standing on the grass with a sign asking for work or money?

'Cause thats what is going on in my neighborhood right now. I don't really care for it. 


Quoting Rubberbiscuit:

No, I don't think it should be a crime.  If you don't like it, don't give them money.  Simple.  Some of us aren't bothered by beggars and don't mind giving a few dollars to a homeless person.


 

snookyfritz
by Platinum Member on Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:45 AM
1 mom liked this

I used to live in a city neighborhood where it was prevalent.  I was more cautious with my children and had to call the police a couple of times when there were vagrants walking drunk in the middle of the road.  But other than that, it didn't bother me.  I understood that the climate in the area where I lived was hospitable.  People from these circumstances can't be hidden from view.  I would rather have them begging than breaking into private homes.

What would you have happen to them?


Quoting UpSheRises:

 Would you feel differently if they were in your neighborhood? Like directly across the street from your house, in a residential neighborhood standing on the grass with a sign asking for work or money?

'Cause thats what is going on in my neighborhood right now. I don't really care for it. 


Quoting Rubberbiscuit:

No, I don't think it should be a crime.  If you don't like it, don't give them money.  Simple.  Some of us aren't bothered by beggars and don't mind giving a few dollars to a homeless person.





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