ACLU fires lawsuit at city on behalf of panhandlers

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed suit against Indianapolis on behalf of four plaintiffs who claim their free-speech rights were violated when they were told to stop panhandling on downtown streets.

The suit, filed Friday, says the plaintiffs were soliciting donations downtown within the past week when they were asked by city police to cease the activity and leave the area. The plaintiffs were not violating the city’s existing panhandling ordinance, the lawsuit says.

Marion County residents Tina Morris, Melissa Peppers, Brenton Fordham and Fred Correll are listed as plaintiffs in the suit.

“The plaintiffs, who all live in poverty, passively solicit contributions from pedestrians near Circle Centre mall by holding up signs,” the ACLU said. “They do not seek funds from people driving by, and do not verbally harass pedestrians. The plaintiffs' activity is fully protected by the First Amendment.”

The ACLU said it would seek class-action status on behalf of “All persons soliciting contributions from pedestrians in the downtown area in Indianapolis—defined as the area south of North Street, north of South Street, east of West Street and west of East Street” —who are not violating the panhandling ordinance.

Panhandling, defined as a vocal solicitation for an immediate donation in a public place, is already prohibited in Indianapolis from sunset and sunrise, and at all times in many locations, including bus stops, bank entrances, ATMs or sidewalk cafes.

However, passive solicitation, which involves holding a sign or jingling a cup of change, is not regulated.

In March, Mayor Greg Ballard proposed strengthening the ordinance to ban panhandling and passive solicitation at all times in the heart of downtown and ban panhandling across the rest of the city from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. It would also ban panhandling at all times near building entrances, parking meters, crosswalks, intersections or off-ramps.

A City-County Council panel, however, has tabled the proposal because of possible First Amendment issues.

Panhandling cost the city about $6.3 million in visitor spending annually, according to the mayor's office, because it turns off tourists and convention-goers.

City spokesman Marc Lotter said the city has not yet seen the lawsuit. He said the ACLU previously sued the city over the existing panhandling law and lost the case.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that the city’s actions violate the First Amendment. They seek an injunction ordering the city to allow the plaintiffs to panhandle without any interference. They also seek reimbursement of their costs and legal fees.

"The First Amendment protects the rights of all people to ask for contributions, whether they are seeking political donations or asking for assistance for poor people on city sidewalks,” ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk said in a prepared statement. “This case seeks to vindicate a right that is fundamentally important for all."



  • You changed me
    Wow guys. I have to say you changed my mind. I was thinking about myself and not the impact of this. We need our freedoms and have a mandate to love or neighbors.
  • Small Government
    As a conservative who believes in limited government, I believe the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press. Theses people holding up signs are making a social comment on our government and its inability to provide all Hoosiers with jobs and homes.
  • Guess who's back
    I think my first album opened a lot of doors for me to push the freedom of speech to the limit far more than beggars in indiana.
  • Theses kids
    I know that dude at Keystone & 86. He once said to me when " look at you, now look at us, all my friends look rich as truck" I don't know
  • Let me decided
    Why is this an issue? A person should be allowed to sit quietly with a sign. What is next, you can't wear a pro-life t shirt around town or a Patriots shirt? The government should not control our lives like this
  • dishonest
    I actually know a guy that would panhandle at the off ramp of Keystone ave. onto 86th st. He did this before working his shift at the Fridays restaurant (keystone mall). He made more panhandling than he did working in the kitchen. He would brag about how much he would make each day. Sometimes as much as $300/day.
  • I'll take care of it
    These assholes always get away.
  • Uncle Ben
    As my Uncle Ben use to say "With great power comes great responsibility." We need to help theses people and protect their rights.
  • Kinship of Faiths
    Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.
  • Come on Ben
    The ACLU was a major player in: Fighting the Internment of Japanese Americans in WWII, Brwon v Board of Deucation, Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton, Exposing Torture in the Iraq war, Safford Unified School Distric v Redding, and repealing Don't ask Don't tell....seams to me Mr. Ben Matlock that they know how to pick a horse!
  • ACLU
    This is a reason I would NEVER join the ACLU. They really need to pick their battles. They often pick wrong.
  • Al-Bukhari
    “If anyone gives as sadaqa (charity) the equivalent of a date from that (earning) earned honestly, for Allah accepts that which is lawful, the Lord would accept it with His Right Hand, and even if it is a date (food), it would foster in the Hand of the lord, as one of you fosters his colt, till it becomes bigger than a mountain.”
  • Matthew 25:45
    Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
  • Help ‘em out
    Help ‘em out How hard is it to just keep on walking? Come on let them be the unemployment rate for our state is 8.6%. Even the IBJ writes about how low income jobs are scarce and in suburban area. These people have nowhere to go and the city is giving them no choices. Even the state and local housing programs (Section 8 and Public Housing) are full.
  • Freedom First
    This is how it starts. First you can’t hold a sign asking for food or change, next you are stuck with Obama’s hope and change! If the least of us cannot be free from the government than none of us will be free. I hate to say it but the ACLU is right on this one!
  • re: caliboy
    I'm pretty sure Tina, Melissa, Brenton and Fred are not reading the IBJ :)
  • FURTHER....
    .... if they want to panhandle, how about making them obtain permits and file taxes on their earnings? I just read this article again and it PISSES me off, sorry. How dare they sue us! (And when it says they're suing the city, they actually ARE suing us - the taxpayers).
  • WTH?!?
    Hey, Tina Morris, Melissa Peppers, Brenton Fordham and Fred Correll! How about, instead of "passively soliciting contributions", you... I don't know... GET JOBS! I am SICK and TIRED of being accosted for contributions by your ilk every time I walk into or out of a store, restaurant, pub or any other high traffic location downtown. Yes, you certainly know how to pick the right spots. Look, I try to be as compassionate as possible and can appreciate that sometimes people fall on hard times. But, in addition to regularly donating to local charities to help the poor, I ALSO contribute taxes to services that are AVAILABLE if you take advantage of them. And if you are able bodied and of sound mind and asking me for the dollars I work hard for then SHAME ON YOU. There are HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of jobs available at any given time in this city. McDonalds may not be the job of your dreams but its there and far and above better than what you have now. Its flabbergasting to watch some of the downtown panhandlers talking on cell phones, stopping to compare their "takes" with their panhandling comrades and then, at the end of the day, chaining their milk crates and other props to public property before riding wherever home his on a shiny, new bike or in the passenger seat of a late model car. I've seen it happen, this is not imagined. The other day I watched two guys working as a team in front of the CVS at Illinois and Ohio. One sat against the payphone on the corner shaking his cup and the other would walk up to place a dollar in the guys cup, offer a few words of encouragement and then walk away. A few minutes later he'd come back to retrieve his dollar and repeat the whole process. It was disgusting. They may refer to what they do as passive, but often its anything but.
  • Charity
    How about donatiy to local food bank or charity instead of giving to panhandlers. might be the easiest solution to this problem. what happens when you're on the beach and decide to give one crumb to a seagull, a thousand more show up.

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