A proposed Montgomery city ordinance that allows for the arrest of panhandlers in the city came under fire from the Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday.
“We urge the Mayor to veto the ordinance because it both unfairly punishes people who are living in poverty and violates the First Amendment,” the SPLC said in a letter to Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange.
The City Council passed the ordinance titled “An Ordinance Prohibiting Panhandling in the City of Montgomery” unanimously in early July. Council members claim that those who solicit money “don’t want access to city services that could help them get on their feet” and “are seeking to make money to feed addictions,” according to the SPLC.
The SPLC claims that these types of statements reinforce baseless stereotypes about homelessness, mental illness and addiction.
“Rather than jailing people whose dire circumstances have led them to ask for financial assistance on public streets, the City should invest in additional services to support people facing housing instability, mental illness, and addiction,” the SPLC argued.
The SPLC said it would likely file a lawsuit if the ordinance is not vetoed or otherwise kept from becoming municipal law. Federal courts have protected panhandling under the First Amendment’s free speech provision in the past.