Panhandlers sue Chicago

Panhandlers sue Chicago

Nine panhandlers are suing the city in federal court, claiming that their rights are being violated. They allege that police officers routinely shoo them off Michigan Avenue, intimidating them by telling them that it’s illegal to beg there.

The panhandlers apparently have evidence – photos and video – of officers telling them this. And I’m sure it’s true. It’s no surprise that the city wants to keep high traffic tourist areas free of panhandlers, but apparently it’s legal for them to be there, as long as they’re not being aggressive.

The panhandlers say that what they are doing is not only perfectly legal, but it’s protected under the First Amendment as well. The lawsuit says that police officers intimidate them and threaten them with arrest and that it’s a violation of their constitutional rights when this happens.

If you’re reading this and doubting that it’s a winning case, think again. These panhandlers have experienced civil-rights attorneys, and it’s not the first case of its kind. One of the lawyers on the current case has apparently filed five other cases for Illinois panhandlers. One of these previous cases included 5,000 panhandlers and settled for $400 each. The premise of that case was that it was illegal for police to define panhandling as disorderly conduct.

Chicago does ban some panhandling, particularly when it’s aggressive and involves unwanted touching, following people or using abusive language. The lawsuit says none of this was an issue when the panhandlers were asked to leave Michigan Avenue. The panhandlers are asking the court for an emergency injunction, which would prohibit police from removing them or telling them they have to leave when they are begging legally on Michigan Avenue. The lawsuit also asks for monetary damages. 

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