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Flagstaff Police Arresting People for Panhandling, ACLU Says That’s Unconstitutional

Posted by attorney Jeremy Geigle

Between June 2012 and May 2013, the Flagstaff Police Department made 135 arrests under a new statute which criminalizes “loitering to beg" in all public spaces, including parks, sidewalks, and thoroughfares.

City program, Operation 40, named for the 40-ounce beer beverages that are commonly consumed by transients, was initiated to prevent petty crimes by “street alcoholics." The operation works to specifically enforce the following violations: disorderly conduct, trespassing, urinating in public, panhandling, littering, and drinking in public. Authorities in Flagstaff explained that by targeting transient drunks during the day, before they become extremely intoxicated, they can better prevent petty crimes from occurring.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona has recently announced that they are filing suit against the City of Flagstaff, claiming that the statute is unconstitutional because it violates an individual’s right to free speech on public property. The ACLU of Arizona adds that “numerous courts throughout the country have ruled that peacefully asking for a donation in a public area is protected speech under the First Amendment."

The interests of the right to free speech has collided many times with the interests of law enforcement in this country, and while police are generally just trying to protect the public, there is no excuse for violating the First Amendment.

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