Panhandling rules draw protest in Chaple Hill, NC [9/30/98] fwd

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 11 Nov 1998 02:25:28 -0400


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FWD  North Carolina News & Observer - 9/30/98


PANHANDLING RULES DRAW PROTEST

Chapel Hill's new
ordinance seen as
'blaming the victim'

By Kirk Kicklighter, Staff Writer


CHAPEL HILL -- If anybody expected a crackdown on panhandling and snoozing
in public places to go over quietly, they didn't know the old Village on
the Hill.

A spirited group of 50 students, activists and homeless folks paraded down
Franklin Street on Tuesday afternoon to protest what they called the
"scapegoating" of the poor and homeless by the Town Council.

The march came in response to the council's passing of stricter ordinances
allowing police to punish "aggressive" panhandling as well as sleeping or
lying on benches. The march lasted about 30 minutes, but organizers said
the issue demanded a statement, no matter how small.

"We see this as a really serious moral question," said Andrew Pearson,
co-manager of Internationalist Books and one of the parade organizers. "Are
we going to really deal with homelessness, or are we going to try to put
these people out of sight and out of mind?"

Bookended by flashing police cars, the group slowed traffic to a crawl as
they banged on pots, blew horns, and carried bed-sheet banners with
messages like "Watch Cops -- Help Stop Harassment" and "Stop Chapel Hill's
Campaign Against the Poor." Some onlookers laughed at the spectacle, some
applauded and cheered, and others seemed perplexed by the disruption.

A few homeless people blended into the group as it flowed past them. Police
Chief Ralph Pendergraph, inconspicuous in street clothes, followed the
parade's progress.

"I don't support this kind of blaming-the-victim thing," said Lisa Richey,
a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who
watched the passing parade. "I'm glad to see people speaking out on this
issue."

Richey said she usually doesn't give money to panhandlers, but she doesn't
mind their presence. "People have a right to ask me for money, and I have a
right to say 'no,' " she said.

According to the Town Council, aggressive panhandling is defined as "asking
people for money or goods by intimidating, accosting or forcing oneself
upon another person."

Among the ordinances passed, people are not allowed to beg or solicit
donations within 20 feet of an entrance or exit of a bank or an automated
teller machine, and begging is outlawed on the city's public transportation
system and at public stops.

Sleeping or lying on benches, seats or tables on and around Franklin Street
also is prohibited. Violating any of the ordinances is a misdemeanor,
punishable with a $50 fine and up to 48 hours in jail.

The ordinances go into effect immediately, but Town Manager Calvin Horton
says no one should expect anything drastic to happen.

"These are just additional tools for the police toolbox," Horton said.
"There will be no dramatic changes right away, but we think it will be
beneficial in the long run."

According to Pendergraph, the police are still developing their plan for
enforcing the restrictions and will be judicious in cracking down on
violators. "The heart of it will be that we won't use any of these
ordinances except as last resorts," he said.

Instead, police will continue to address problems in the same way they have
for the past couple of months: talking to people who spark complaints and
encouraging them to modify their behavior.

The police department also has designated a crisis counselor to serve as a
liaison with the town's shelter. Pendergraph said the most important issue
is to hire new mental health counselors to resume outreach work to help
homeless people and panhandlers deal with underlying problems.

"This is not a police issue; it's a social issue," Pendergraph said. "We've
got some ways to deal with some extreme situations that may arise. But
that's dealing with the symptoms, it's not dealing with the problems."

Some protesters think the new ordinances are a violation of the
constitutional right to free speech. But Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf
says they are misguided.

"Smiling at someone, keeping your hands to yourself, being pleasant and
asking someone for money is absolutely legal," Waldorf said. "But
aggressive behavior extends beyond just speech -- and the courts consider
it illegal."

Professor Arnold Loewy of UNC's School of Law studies and teaches about the
Constitution, and he thinks the Town Council is on reasonable legal grounds
with its approach.

"Legally speaking, aggressive panhandling is somewhere between classic
begging and robbery, and the line is not really clear," Loewy said. "If a
large, mean-looking man comes up and asks a small, timid woman for money,
is it begging or something else?"

Loewy did acknowledge that prohibiting the homeless from sleeping on
benches could be "problematic" for the Town Council if people have nowhere
else to sleep.

"It doesn't violate their free speech if you make them leave a bus stop
bench, because sitting on that bench is not expressive speech in any
meaningful sense," he said. "But they do need to have other places they can
go."

Rod Clinton, 30, took a break from panhandling to watch the parade pass him
by. Leaning on a wall near the Varsity Theater, munching on a Kit-Kat bar,
Clinton said the situation is simple.

"Some people got to panhandle just to eat and survive, and there ain't
enough bed space in the shelters" he said. "We wouldn't be out here doing
this if we didn't have to."

[Staff writer Todd Nelson contributed to this report.]

END FORWARD
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FWD  North Carolina News & Observer - 9/30/98



<paraindent><param>right,left</param>PANHANDLING RULES DRAW PROTEST


Chapel Hill's new

ordinance seen as

'blaming the victim'


By Kirk Kicklighter, Staff Writer

</paraindent>


CHAPEL HILL -- If anybody expected a crackdown on panhandling and
snoozing in public places to go over quietly, they didn't know the old
Village on the Hill. 


A spirited group of 50 students, activists and homeless folks paraded
down Franklin Street on Tuesday afternoon to protest what they called
the "scapegoating" of the poor and homeless by the Town Council. 


The march came in response to the council's passing of stricter
ordinances allowing police to punish "aggressive" panhandling as well
as sleeping or lying on benches. The march lasted about 30 minutes, but
organizers said the issue demanded a statement, no matter how small. 


"We see this as a really serious moral question," said Andrew Pearson,
co-manager of Internationalist Books and one of the parade organizers.
"Are we going to really deal with homelessness, or are we going to try
to put these people out of sight and out of mind?" 


Bookended by flashing police cars, the group slowed traffic to a crawl
as they banged on pots, blew horns, and carried bed-sheet banners with
messages like "Watch Cops -- Help Stop Harassment" and "Stop Chapel
Hill's Campaign Against the Poor." Some onlookers laughed at the
spectacle, some applauded and cheered, and others seemed perplexed by
the disruption. 


A few homeless people blended into the group as it flowed past them.
Police Chief Ralph Pendergraph, inconspicuous in street clothes,
followed the parade's progress. 


"I don't support this kind of blaming-the-victim thing," said Lisa
Richey, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill who watched the passing parade. "I'm glad to see people
speaking out on this issue." 


Richey said she usually doesn't give money to panhandlers, but she
doesn't mind their presence. "People have a right to ask me for money,
and I have a right to say 'no,' " she said. 


According to the Town Council, aggressive panhandling is defined as
"asking people for money or goods by intimidating, accosting or forcing
oneself upon another person." 


Among the ordinances passed, people are not allowed to beg or solicit
donations within 20 feet of an entrance or exit of a bank or an
automated teller machine, and begging is outlawed on the city's public
transportation system and at public stops. 


Sleeping or lying on benches, seats or tables on and around Franklin
Street also is prohibited. Violating any of the ordinances is a
misdemeanor, punishable with a $50 fine and up to 48 hours in jail. 


The ordinances go into effect immediately, but Town Manager Calvin
Horton says no one should expect anything drastic to happen. 


"These are just additional tools for the police toolbox," Horton said.
"There will be no dramatic changes right away, but we think it will be
beneficial in the long run." 


According to Pendergraph, the police are still developing their plan
for enforcing the restrictions and will be judicious in cracking down
on violators. "The heart of it will be that we won't use any of these
ordinances except as last resorts," he said. 

 

Instead, police will continue to address problems in the same way they
have for the past couple of months: talking to people who spark
complaints and encouraging them to modify their behavior. 


The police department also has designated a crisis counselor to serve
as a liaison with the town's shelter. Pendergraph said the most
important issue is to hire new mental health counselors to resume
outreach work to help homeless people and panhandlers deal with
underlying problems. 


"This is not a police issue; it's a social issue," Pendergraph said.
"We've got some ways to deal with some extreme situations that may
arise. But that's dealing with the symptoms, it's not dealing with the
problems." 


Some protesters think the new ordinances are a violation of the
constitutional right to free speech. But Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary
Waldorf says they are misguided. 


"Smiling at someone, keeping your hands to yourself, being pleasant and
asking someone for money is absolutely legal," Waldorf said. "But
aggressive behavior extends beyond just speech -- and the courts
consider it illegal." 


Professor Arnold Loewy of UNC's School of Law studies and teaches about
the Constitution, and he thinks the Town Council is on reasonable legal
grounds with its approach. 


"Legally speaking, aggressive panhandling is somewhere between classic
begging and robbery, and the line is not really clear," Loewy said. "If
a large, mean-looking man comes up and asks a small, timid woman for
money, is it begging or something else?" 


Loewy did acknowledge that prohibiting the homeless from sleeping on
benches could be "problematic" for the Town Council if people have
nowhere else to sleep. 


"It doesn't violate their free speech if you make them leave a bus stop
bench, because sitting on that bench is not expressive speech in any
meaningful sense," he said. "But they do need to have other places they
can go." 


Rod Clinton, 30, took a break from panhandling to watch the parade pass
him by. Leaning on a wall near the Varsity Theater, munching on a
Kit-Kat bar, Clinton said the situation is simple. 


"Some people got to panhandle just to eat and survive, and there ain't
enough bed space in the shelters" he said. "We wouldn't be out here
doing this if we didn't have to." 


[Staff writer Todd Nelson contributed to this report.]


END FORWARD

- 

                              


                                       

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