It’s Legal For Panhandlers To Stand On OKC Medians Again!

Back in 2015, the Oklahoma City Council – led by ruling class leech Meg Salyer – voted 7-2 to enact a classist anti-panhandling measure that would ban “solicitation” on city medians under the laughable guise of “public safety.” It was pretty controversial at the time, and resulted in thrill-seeker Louis Fowler panhandling at 23rd and Classen to see how risky it really was.

Since then, a challenge to the ordinance has been floating around in the legal system, with opponents arguing the law is nothing more than a draconian, heavy-handed attempt by local government to limit the free speech rights of citizens who, for whatever reason, chose to stand at a corner and ask for money.

To help strengthen the city’s public safety excuse, the law was later amended to only cover medians next to roads that have a 40 mph speed limit. In 2018, a federal judge figured that was enough to pass the constitutional mustard, and kept the law intact, guaranteeing that our city’s many fine medians remained picturesque and clean for people driving by in their air-conditioned luxury vehicles.

Undeterred, the ACLU appealed to that decision to the 10th Circuit Cout of Appeals in Denver. As the judicial branch usually does when Oklahoma politicians enact blatantly discriminatory laws, they struck down the measure on Monday.

Via The AP:

An Oklahoma City law that places restrictions on panhandling on street medians is an unconstitutional violation of free speech, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver reversed the ruling of a federal judge in Oklahoma City who ruled in 2018 that the ordinance was constitutional.

Plaintiffs included two homeless men who used the medians to panhandle, including one who sold issues of the Curbside Chronicle newspaper, two joggers and a community activist who has used medians to protest and erect signs for his legislative candidacy.

That’s good news! I’m not pro-panhandling by any means, but I’d bet there are plenty of better, more constitutional ways to address the issue than some stupid ordinance that A) violates an individual’s or group’s right to free speech and B) doesn’t do anything to address the issue.

Here’s what the city’s attorney had to say about the court’s ruling:

“Safety is always our number priority and was the reason for the adoption of the Median Safety ordinance,” Deputy Municipal Counselor Amanda Carpenter said in a statement. “However, after the 10th Circuit’s ruling today, the City will not be enforcing its ordinance prohibiting persons from sitting, standing or staying on Oklahoma City medians.”

Question 1. Were the police even enforcing this ordinance? I drive all over this town and there’s no shortage of panhandlers asking for money. If anything, it feels like there are more people doing it today than there were in 2015.

Question 2. With all the medians opening back up, how do we determine which panhandler gets which median? Will they be able to stake a claim to their old turf, or will the city host a “Pick Your Median” event like the Hornets and Thunder did back when it was time for people to select their season tickets. Hopefully, the CurbSide Chronicle will address these questions and more in their next issue.

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27 Responses

  1. This is a good decision for the First Amendment. Congrats to the ACLU of Oklahoma and attorneys Joe Thai , Megan Lambert and Micheal Salem. I’m sure the decision came down just in time to protect the Fireman with their empty boots, collecting funds for M.D. during Labor Day weekend – which is a GOOD thing. It is also great for the First Amendment. The City of Oklahoma Cit y tried to make this a safety issue instead of a first amendment issue. Years previously when attempting to pass this ordinance, they said the Fireman were ‘protected’ by a million dollar liability insurance policy (paid for we taxpayers, of course!) – while those soliciting money for food and those wanting to do corner protests would have to purchase their own liability insurance.

    Good job, Second Circuit! Long live free speech — and the right to ignore solicitors and protesters — if one chooses.

    1. It’s the Tenth circuit, not the Second.

    2. Most panhandlers who I see aren’t aggressive or doing anything dangerous. I can’t say the same about the firemen. They are a public nuisance when panhandling for the late Jerry Lewis around Labor Day. Their liability insurance won’t protect either one of us if I run over one of them.

      The way things are going, I expect that we are going to see a lot more panhandlers in the coming months. Thanks to the court ruling, city government will no longer be able to protect us from seeing the needy people in our midst. It’s often unpleasant to face reality.

  2. The biggest underlying problem and largest obstacle to things ever improving is the fact that you can’t help someone until they’re willing
    to help themselves.

    They don’t want to stay at the shelters and get back on their feet
    because they don’t allow drinking and drugs there. They don’t want to work because it’s easier to panhandle a while to get what they want.

    Police won’t hardly enforce it because the jails are overcrowded as it is.
    They only react to the most obnoxious of them after getting complaints.
    Some cities actually give bus passes to them to go to some other state.

    It’s a depressing problem and seems a real shame that we’re powerless to do much about it. You can hand out money, clothing and food and the church groups can cut their hair and toenails, yet all that does is give them more reason NOT to work and fend for themselves …why work when you can get the basics for free.

    The longer they’re at it, the craftier they get and there are little ‘cow trails’ around downtown where they’ll walk from the food missions, the liquor store, under the bridge and so forth. It becomes a life style of choice.
    Use to be you’d hardly ever see tents and cardboard shelters around the city but now they’re in plain sight like a miniature LA.

    Nearly everyone’s in favor of trying to help the unfortunate, but it does seem like the more efforts are made, the worse the problem gets.

    1. That was sure helpful. Feel better?

    2. I won’t deny that there are probably some people who panhandle because they don’t want to work or think they make more.

      But I’d ask you exactly how many jobs you think are out there available to people who don’t have a home address, and may not have reliable contact information or transportation. And when you have all day with nothing to do, it becomes really, really easy to turn to drugs or alcohol to pass the time.

      As weird as it seems, just giving homeless people homes seems like it’s the best way to address the problem of homelessness, but that’s not politically tenable.

      1. Concerning addiction, I think you have it backwards for most people, and I suspect you know that too. If you’re addicted and on the streets, chances are that your addiction drove you to that pass, and not some vague sense of ennui that infested you after you landed there.
        Not saying that doesn’t happen, but I doubt it’s as significant a factor.

        1. I don’t disagree with you at all, I know that there are plenty of people on the street who had their life spiral out of control due to addiction (in fact, I would say I think it’s a very significant portion).

          But I also believe that being on the street will put people at a higher risk of forming addiction because of the nature of those circumstances. I think there’s a big reason why impoverished areas tend to be more ravaged by addiction problems (or, at least, don’t hide it as well), and at least part of that is the problem of a lack of constructive ways to spend time. There’s a myriad of problems why people might wind up on the streets, but once they are, I think they’re just at greater risk of having problems with addiction if they don’t have any already.

          I don’t share the hopeless sentiment Mark has, though I know it’s a very complex problem and no solution will help everyone. I don’t think it’s fair to just write them off as being “unwilling to help themselves” when their status just makes is really, really hard for them to do so.

    3. Mark, how many of “those people” do you actually know?

      My guess is none. But I’m sure that thinking as you do makes you feel better.

      1. I’ve had shops in the low rent areas for the bulk of my adult life.
        I was in the Plaza district for 12 years and 4th and Shartel for
        about 15 years.

        But no I don’t feel much better after writing. Instead it makes me realize how there’s no solution.
        It’s an ongoing social problem that goes unsolved.

    4. I think that part of the reason the homeless are more “visible” is that they have been pushed out of the areas that they once resided in because of the revitalization efforts downtown. While it’s nice to have shiny, restored things, it also causes a migratory shift of the population that was once present there. Film Row wasn’t the same place 5 to 10 to 15 years ago. It seems like the OKC homeless are being pushed toward hidden areas along the river and west of Film Row. The police have “flushed” them out a couple of times this year along the OKC Boulevard, but they eventually come back, the primary reason being that the shelters and resources they need are close by.

      There isn’t an easy, one size fits all answer to how we can help them. For some, it is a personal choice to live that lifestyle. Others have had some serious misfortunes that have taken them to a place of despair that they don’t know how to navigate.

      There are definitely groups and entities that are trying their best to help them. The Curbside Chronicle being one and I can’t think of the name of the bicycle organization that will give someone a reliable means of transportation to get them back on track. Some of the churches (which Graychin abhors) downtown also have several programs that either assist the downtown shelters or help the homeless directly.

  3. Where’s my constitutional mustard?

  4. If you roll down your window and talk to them as they are actual human beings you discover a lot of things. Every one I’ve met is friendly. Some are just hustling but most have serious illnesses or heart breaking stories. And yes the ones I’ve talked to have devised a system where they take thirty minute turns when more than one is at the intersection.

    1. You’re dealing with the cream of the crop ‘people person’ type who may have a well-rehearsed sob story on hand, but they’re not threatening or overly aggressive, nor are they as much of an eye-sore, so the cops don’t run them off from their territory.

      There’s another type who basically hate the world and don’t care to mingle with people, shying away from the mainstream public.
      They’ll get 1/2 out of their minds and get their nerve up and approach total strangers in a very intimidating manner. The people will usually give in and cough up some money, sometimes out of fear and sometimes to just get them to go away faster.

  5. SoonerKen, you are right — 10th Circuit. I’ve been keeping up so much lately with the second circuit that it’s on my brain. 🙂

  6. Always amazing what elected officials seem to think is Constitutional. Difficult to understand if they are that uninformed or are so egotistical that they believe whatever they think should be Constitutional is in the case they want to make.

    Sort of like how Governor Stitt thought he had a certain amount of power until the state Supreme Court ruled that he “exceeded his authority” on the Indian Gaming Compacts. Now he doesn’t want to mandate masks statewide because he personally doesn’t believe in them. I’m sure if he felt differently he would issue the mandate and base his authority on the numerous other states, including rural ones like Mississippi, who is also a Republican which have state wide mask mandates.

    Why not call a special session to address the mask mandate. Then Stitt could end his philosophical mask debate. While the legislators are in session they could also consider removing Stitt from office on multiple charges including exceeding his authority in the Gaming Compacts.

    Have to wonder if removing him might show a lot of good faith from the state to the tribes, something Oklahoma has never actually tried before. Nothing says “I’m sorry” better than removing an idiot employee who screwed up with large group of your population, or “stakeholders” as Stitt likes to call them.

    But of course it is far more likely that a MAPS tax will actually end and not be renewed than for the Legislature to do something right. It’s just not part of the “Oklahoma Standard.”

  7. What a shame. I wish that there was an area somewhere on the Southside where we could put all the homeless so the rest of us don’t have to look at them or deal with their crazy median antics. They could do whatever they wanted to in their little area that is far away from the metro. I think that would be better for everyone.

    1. Thinking a better place to send all the panhandlers and cardboard boxes would be downtown edmond!! If anybody deserves to see their handy work up close it’s those arrogant right wing loving posers!

      1. No. There is not enough traffic in downtown Edmond to make panhandling worthwhile. Also, there is curb parking and, most importantly, no medians. So downtown Edmond would not make a very good panhandling location.

      2. On behalf of myself and my fellow uppity Edmond citizens, screw you.

        1. +1

        2. I’m curious how he came up with the conclusion that Edmond is somehow responsible for the homeless in OKC, but not curious enough to hear the crazy explanation that comes next.

    2. ummmmmmmm crossraods mall

    3. Jonathan, that sounds like what is sometimes called a “concentration camp.”

      1. Honestly, I’d thought a potential solution would be to acquire some of the nearly vacant malls via eminent domain and either convert them or raze and construct apartments there. Give a lease out to homeless people and either give grants to charities to provide shuttle services or put public transport routes there.

        I mean, Jonathan might come off as a hate-filled douchenozzle who wouldn’t be worth associating with in real life, but I do think there’s a point in figuring a way to home the homeless, even if that wasn’t what he was suggesting.

  8. I remember a guy who used to stand on the median around 23rd and Classen. I guess this was in the ’80s.

    He was a black man with a ventriloquist dummy and he had a sign which had some kind of Bible verse on it, or an exhortation to read the Bible, or something. He’d yammer away at the passing cars, or his wooden dummy would do it, or sometimes both. Preachin’ and testifyin’! I think he also had a child’s wagon that he would pull some of his belongings with, or sit the dummy in. This went on for quite a while, then suddenly the guy vanished.

    A few years later I was watching a TV report about Venice, California and suddenly I spot this same guy in the background, with his dummy and his wagon! I guess he sought greener pastures. (Californy is the place you oughta be, so he loaded up his wagon and moved to Bever—I mean, Venice.)

    True story. I guess the Lard works in mysterious ways.

  9. A few years ago there was a black guy on the corner of 23rd and Penn who had a puppet on strings that he’d make dance. I think I only saw him once and it was just for a brief moment before the light changed.
    I heard the shouts of approval come from some of the cars around me first and then noticed the puppet doing the craziest looking dance. I remember thinking that the guy was good enough to have a nightclub act or something.

    It cheered up the people waiting for the light and broke up their boring drive
    for just a bit. It was kind of the opposite oft having to see someone with a depressing cardboard sign while you’re stuck in rush hour traffic.

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