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Opening Arguments

Begging to differ

I wonder if City Councilwoman Liz Brown wishes she had kept her mouth shut. In July, she proposed changes to existing anti-begging laws that would exempt charitable organizations and "buskers" such as street musicians who perform in exchange for volunary donations. Now, a fellow council member has upped the stakes:

Constitutionally speaking, City Councilman Tim Pape figures, there's not much difference between begging and busking.

So Tuesday, Pape, D-5th, intends to introduce an ordinance that would essentially protect all forms of panhandling as constitutionally protected free speech.

Generally speaking, he's right. Federal courts have held that begging is covered by the First Amendment. But they've allowed a couple of exceptions to such an absolutist interpretation. "Aggressive panhandling" -- beggars who do such things as grab your arms or wash your windhsield and demand payment or won't take no for an answer -- can be forbidden. And there can be time, place and manner restrictions as there are on other forms of speech. Begging can be outlawed that impedes sidewalk flow or presents a traffic hazard, for example. If Pape just introduces somethingt to "protect all forms of panhandling" without taking note of those exceptions, he isn't doing us any favors.

Just as an aside, I sometimes find the "good" panhandlers -- i.e. those begging for charity -- to be a bigger annoynance than the bad ones merely begging for their next bottle of cheap wine. One of those guys came up to me in a parking lot one day last week with the usual "My car broke down and I need bus money" story, I said "Not today, thanks," and he said, "No problem" and moved on. That's the way it almost always goes. But there have been times at the Broadway/Bluffton Road intersection when I've been afraid my car or somebody elese's would mow down one of the kids collecting for their schools or one of the firefighters out their with their boo


Bob G.
Mon, 09/27/2010 - 2:59pm

So, Tim Pape would "protect" those panhandlers that SPIT on your windshield and then wipe it off with a dirty sleeve saying they "cleaned" it under free speech (and want some money for said "service")?

Guess he didn't THINK about that, eh?.


Lewis Allen
Mon, 09/27/2010 - 8:14pm

Bob G - Has that really happened to you here? I've never encountered anything like a squeegee man here.

Actually, the panhandlers here are not only less bothersome than the ones begging for a charity, they're also way less annoying than the buskers who make you listen to their crappy music.

Phil Marx
Tue, 09/28/2010 - 1:22am

I like the kind of beggars who, after I offer to give them food instead of cash, just turn and walk away.

I think that during my two decades in Fort Wayne I've only had one of them actually accept my offer of food.

William Larsen
Tue, 09/28/2010 - 7:02am

"So Tuesday, Pape, D-5th, intends to introduce an ordinance that would essentially protect all forms of panhandling as constitutionally protected free speech."

I would think Pape would understand what Free Speech is. Free Speech is not something that anyone can legislate. It is protected by something higher than legislation, it is called the United States Constitution and Indiana Constitution.

Speech that is protected is that which is of public interest. Free Speech that is not protected is that which the person has a personal interest in the outcome. For example a person who by themselves protest taxes, war or any number of problems who has a personal interest in the outcome is not protected. You need at least one other person who believes the same thing before you are protected. Two or more people make it a public concern. By yourself you are out of luck.

The kicker is that there could be millions who believe the same way,but until one other person stands beside you at that time, it is not protected free speech.

Speech is protected only when such speech deals with matters of

Andrew J.
Tue, 09/28/2010 - 7:26am

Annoying, intrusive, and offensive speech is to be protected by the courts and tolerated by the public as incidental to an open society. You can thank the Jehovah's Witnesses in large part for that.
It does not require public interest. I can stand in front of my house on a public street and mumble gibberish out loud, in a language I only understand and which I created and which no other person has an interest in, and no government can tell me boo.

Bob G.
Tue, 09/28/2010 - 9:00am

I was citing examples of what has happened in Philly (years ago), and seeing the same game wanting to be played out HERE.

I offered one guy food...he ACCEPTED it and left.
Hope he made something out of that.

I believe there is a HUGE difference from firemen with their boots at intersections ,or the students carwash/donation gig, and the tattered flotsam out BEGGING...freaking huge difference!

And yet, they all seem to be painted with a rather BROAD BRUSH...that being "panhandlers".
I'm not seeing the "connection".

One group has PURPOSE...the other, none.

Andrew J.
Tue, 09/28/2010 - 9:22am

As Christ said, there will always be beggars among us. He didn't look down on them nor split hairs between good solicitors and bad beggars. Neither should you.

William Larsen
Tue, 09/28/2010 - 12:22pm

"Annoying, intrusive, and offensive speech is to be protected by the courts and tolerated by the public as incidental to an open society. You can thank the Jehovah

Phil Marx
Tue, 09/28/2010 - 5:58pm


I tried looking up the case you cited and found nothing that matched. I don't have access to legal archives, just a google search. I'd like to read that case if you could direct me in how to find it.

Logically speaking, I don't see how the presence of only a single person would negate the matter being of public concern though. I could go out and protest against the war. I'm too old to be drafted, and I don't have any family in the military, so my protest would be on behalf of public policy, not private concern.

However, I did see that the case you mentioned the City of Chicago (the same place that managed to nullify the 2nd Amendment for quite a few years), so I wouldn't disbelieve anything I heard coming from there.

Phil Marx
Tue, 09/28/2010 - 6:13pm

I wonder if Pape's new law will mandate that begging be allowed for up to two miles outside of city limits.

Bob G.
Wed, 09/29/2010 - 8:36am

I've been "begging" the city to do something about my neighborhood (as have YOU) for YEARS...

Does this effectively "count" as panhandling?
And what does "Pape's Law" have to say about it, I wonder?

Obviously, up to this point, OUR "begging" has been pretty much ignored by the city, so I would conclude it's BEEN ALLOWED for quite some time!
(who knew?)