The poor are among the most marginalized and disenfranchised demographics in America and laws that target them specifically are not uncommon. For example, an individual found with cocaine faces one set of charges while an individual found with crack faces much stiffer penalties even though they are the same drug. Why? Because crack is found primarily in inner-city communities. Hence, the law is largely unfair, heavily weighted to harm the poor, and in fact, has an element of racism to it that somehow gets overlooked on a daily basis.
The issue is exemplified by a recent ruling by the federal courts that deemed panhandling laws were unconstitutional. Of course, we all know that the First Amendment protects free speech. However, we tend to forget that when it comes to poor people asking for change. We think that because it’s annoying, we have the right to pass laws that prohibit an individual from annoying us. How does a law get passed that is such an obvious violation of our Constitution? We tend to forget about the Constitution and our rights when it only impacts people we find unseemly. Hence, the thousands of poor people who were convicted under this statute did not have the same rights as you or I. It wasn’t until a court determined that such laws were unenforceable that these counties stopped arresting individuals who were using their Constitutionally-protected rights to say words to others.
So, how do you rob people of their rights without raising the alarm of the federal courts? Well, you argue it’s for their own safety, of course.
It’s unclear how many panhandlers have been run over by cars while asking for money and holding up signs, probably none. So now what are the counties going to do? Well, instead of simply obeying the courts, they’ve decided to draw up a whole new law that does not mention panhandling at all but instead makes it illegal to “loiter” by the street. Specifically, standing on the median is now considered a crime. Further, if you are a driver, you are not allowed to “have an interaction” with a pedestrian which sounds like yet another violation of the First Amendment.
The problem is obvious. These folks are so intent on criminalizing homelessness that they don’t realize that they’re breaking the law to do it. Unfortunately, however, there are no consequences for those who pass Unconstitutional laws. Individuals are arrested, suffer humiliation, incarceration, and more, and then their public defender says that the law is unconstitutional, the court agrees, and they’re free to go. The harm done to the individual is never compensated. The legislators who violated his rights can go back to the drawing board and figure out a new way to do it.
While most people don’t like being asked for money, these same folks tend to feel very strongly about their freedom and their rights. It’s sad when you see elected officials forget that.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested for standing in the median or interacting with a pedestrian, call the West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at The Skier Law Firm, P.A. today. We will protect your rights from short-sighted legislators who have forgotten that the price of liberty is tolerance.