Crime

ACLU sues Colorado Springs for panhandling ban, says it violates free speech rights

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"It seems that what the city council is trying to do is address these reports of aggressive panhandling that is frightening, threatening, coercive, intimidating," says Silverstein. "But what they've chosen to forbid covers far, far more."

While the ACLU argues that the ordinance illegally targets some behaviors, Silverstein also notes that the policy seems unnecessarily harmful to those who aren't a nuisance.

"He sits quietly in a wheelchair and asks...if people can spare any change," he says of one client. "And he winds up being a target."

Silverstein adds, "In fact, if you happen to park downtown and you didn't have money for a parking meter and you ask a companion for a quarter, you would be in violation.... If a Girl Scout were selling cookies, if a kid set up a lemonade stand, that's forbidden too."

Melcher, however, says the city has thoroughly researched the issue and believes the policy does not violate the Constitution. As evidence, he points to the many cities across the countries with similar policies that have held up in court.

"There are probably two dozen...around the country," he says. "We are well aware of the Constitutional issues. We did an exhaustive review.... We looked at cases over the last twenty years. We designed this ordinance very carefully to make sure it would give our city...the best opportunity to have a lawful ordinance that would help our downtown community."

Though the ACLU argues that the policy is dangerously broad, Melcher says, "It's very narrowly drafted. We cover only solicitation -- asking someone...for money, a thing of value, with nothing in return."

And Melcher says the law can't get much more specific than it is, because the law must consider everyone the same, without creating exemptions for different activities or people.

"The courts require that if you have a no-solicitation ordinance, you have to treat everyone equally," he says, adding that he's frustrated the ACLU did not give the City Attorney's office a chance to thoroughly explain the legal arguments behind the ordinance.

Melcher, in comments that resemble the arguments behind Denver's camping ban, adds, "The city is not only addressing negative impacts of solicitation in downtown, it's trying to really proactively address root causes of homelessness."

Continue for the full legal filing in this case.

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Sam Levin
Contact: Sam Levin