ACLU suit: Akron panhandling law is abused, unconstitutional

AKRON, Ohio (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has filed a lawsuit against a northeast Ohio city over an ordinance that forces panhandlers to register with the city, wear identification badges and restricts the activity to daylight hours.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Akron federal court states the law is only enforced against people perceived as poor or homeless, and not against others who ask for money, such as those connected with nonprofit groups.

The ordinance was passed in 2006, in the wake of incidents in which panhandling turned into an assault, the city’s police chief said at the time.

The ACLU said the ordinance violates the constitutional rights of panhandlers and that police abuse the law to relocate homeless people. The group is asking the judge to deem the law unconstitutional. It also wants the judge to bar enforcement of the ordinance while the case is pending.

“Silencing the speech of the poor does not solve poverty,” ACLU volunteer attorney Joe Mead said. “Rather than trying to prevent individuals from speaking about their needs, public officials would be better served by trying to address those needs directly.”

Jeromey Young, 41, told the Akron Beacon Journal that he’s been panhandling for about six months.

“It’s hard for me to work because I have a bad knee,” Young said. “I’m not on welfare or assistance or anything, so this is my only income.”

The suit names the city, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and police Chief James Nice as defendants. It’s seeking an unspecified amount in damages and attorneys’ fees.

A city spokeswoman said they haven’t been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment.