Begging for change is about to get more complicated for down-on-their-luck Detroiters. Certain types of panhandling will be punishable by up to 90 days in jail under an ordinance passed last month by Detroit's city council that goes into effect in September.
“They’re enumerated specifically as part of the ordinance, and include places like waiting in line, food establishments, ATMs, bus and train stations,” City Attorney Tanya Long told WWJ in July. “(They’re places) where a person is held really to be in one location and can’t move.”
The Detroit News reports that the law would also apply to those who touch, block or act threateningly towards people while begging and those who refuse to leave after a person makes it clear they do not wish to give them money.
According to the Detroit Free Press, city council passed the law 4-2. Council President Charles Pugh, who voted in favor of it, told the paper he has driven away from gas stations that appeared to have panhandlers standing outside because he "didn't feel like dealing with it."
The new law restricting panhandling replaces an earlier, broader one banning the practice that was struck down in 1996. Surprisingly, the measure has won praise from an unexpected source, the American Civil Liberties Union, which has advocated for the rights of panhandlers.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled down a Michigan law opposed by the ACLU that banned peaceful begging in all public places. The ACLU had filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Grand Rapids men who had been arrested under that law.
Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney, told the Detroit News he was happy to hear the new law acknowledged public begging as a form of constitutionally-protected speech.
Critics have charged that the law criminalizes the poor and will increase existing tensions between panhandlers, homeless people and Detroit's police force.
Nearby cities of Birmingham, Royal Oak and Ann Arbor have similar codes against agressive panhandling in place as do San Antonio, Texas and Akron, Ohio.
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