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.