On Tuesday night, Greensboro City Council took further steps to criminalize poverty in the city. A 5-4 vote enacted temporary ordinances that amount to a stopgap measure that targets poor people without actually saying so — panhandling is constitutionally protected speech, after all, and it’s not illegal to be poor… yet. (See Jordan Green’s reporting on page 10)
DeWitt McCarley, from the Parker Poe law firm, outlined the city’s precarious position at the meeting: “This is not a solicitation ordinance,” he said. “That’s the key issue. If you call it solicitation, you’ve now made it content-based, and that’s the thing that triggers a level of review by the Supreme Court that it will never withstand.”
It’s becoming less rare, in the era of Trump, to see someone so transparent about his obfuscation.
We can’t make an ordinance against asking for money, because it happens all the time. Every single piece of construction in downtown Greensboro right now is at least partially the result of handouts — from investors, from incentives, from Greensboro City Council itself. Every nonprofit in the city regularly extends its hands to maintain a mission or an ideal, just as every church passes around a collection plate to keep the fires burning.
And come election time, councilmembers themselves will be asking for campaign contributions to fund their re-election efforts.
Of the things addressed in the new city ordinances, I myself have perpetrated just about every single one at different times in my life. I’m guilty of “blocking or impeding street and sidewalk access” every time I stand outside the Green Bean and have a smoke. “Weaving or darting through, around, and in between multiple occupied vehicles”? Yep. I have sat on a traffic island. Every time I load the downtown newspaper boxes with Triad City Beat, a paper filled with advertisements, I am technically participating in the “distribution of items.” And, a time or two, I have even engaged in “following an individual in or about a public space with the intent of threatening, intimidating, or causing fear for personal safety.”
But that was a long time ago.