INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Four panhandlers are bucking the mayor’s high-profile effort to ban them from downtown Indianapolis, saying their First Amendment rights are being violated by police.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court, saying city police officers have tried to drive them from downtown sidewalks even though they are following existing ordinances. The ACLU wants a federal judge to declare the lawsuit a class action representing all downtown panhandlers.
The city’s current ordinance allows but regulates panhandling, limiting it to daylight hours and barring begging from motorists, among other restrictions.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard proposed the ban in March, saying the city had received numerous complaints about people begging for money along downtown streets. Ballard’s proposal would ban oral requests for money in the heart of downtown and passive solicitations — such as people shaking cups or holding signs — across much of the city.
The City-County Council tabled the proposal last month.
Spokesman Marc Lotter said the ACLU challenged the existing ordinance in court several years ago and lost.
ACLU legal director Ken Falk said the city seemed to be going beyond the rules set in the current ordinance and eliminate all panhandling downtown.
“There should no restriction on somebody sitting or handling on the sidewalk while holding a sign,” he said.
“It’s actually no different than somebody coming up for you and asking, ‘Would you like to donate $10 for cancer’ or something. It’s protected free speech,” Falk added.
Ballard has said his proposal was modeled after laws in other cities that courts have upheld.
He said studies by the Coalition for Homeless Intervention and Prevention found that almost none of the panhandlers downtown were homeless.
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