Atlanta Bans Panhandling
If you would like to go on vacation without worry of being hassled by beggars, Atlanta may be the destination for you — especially if you’re black and gay.
Protesters yelled “Shame!” and “Crybaby!” as city council members approved a ban on panhandling near tourist attractions, but the mayor is expected to sign the legislation.
The ordinance, approved 12-3 Monday, makes it illegal to ask strangers for food or money near downtown museums and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The measure was pushed by business owners who say the area is awash in aggressive beggars, but it got spirited opposition from civil rights groups and advocates for the poor. The ordinance will become law when Mayor Shirley Franklin signs it. Franklin has said she supports the panhandling ban, but a time for her to sign the bill hasn’t been set, said her spokeswoman, Catherine Woodling.
The vote capped a summer of debate over the proposal, pitched by a business group in advance of a large aquarium opening downtown in November. The council delayed the vote at least three times because of protests.
Some argued the panhandling ban was an illegal limit on speech. One council member who supported the ordinance, Felicia A. Moore, said before casting her vote: “I’m not sure if it’s constitutional or not.” On the eve of Monday’s vote, several dozen protesters camped on the lawn of city hall, and the crowd swelled to more than 200 by the time the council met. “The ability to ask for alms is a God-given ability. You can pass laws to protect trees, but what about human beings? God help us!” protester Elisabeth Omilami told council members.
One can scarcely imagine the constitutional grounds upon which this would be overturned by the courts. “Gimme twenty dollars” is hardly a political message and, in any case, the courts have long upheld time, place, and manner restrictions on even political speech.