Worcester sued over panhandling law

The city of Worcester is being sued over its new aggressive panhandling law. Credit: Google Images
The city of Worcester is being sued over its new aggressive panhandling law. Credit: Google Images

A school committee member in Worcester joined two homeless residents in suing the city Monday, charging that an ordinance intended to block aggressive panhandling violated their right to free speech.

Plaintiffs Robert Thayer and Sharon Brownson are both homeless. They, along with school committee member Tracy Novick, charged that the ordinances, adopted in January, would also hurt political speech by banning political candidates from campaigning on traffic medians and rotaries, and banning anyone from soliciting in public from a half-hour before sunset to a half-hour after sunrise.

“The city and the police department’s enforcement of the ordinances is focused on ‘panhandling’ by the homeless, and not on other speech or conduct that may take place on roadways, rotaries or traffic medians and islands,” the suit contends.

It noted that no arrests were made at a recent protest against the ordinance held on traffic medians, but that “several homeless individuals” have since been arrested for violating the rule.

The lawsuit contends the ordinance violates both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech, and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal treatment under the law.

Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty had no immediate comment on the suit, said his chief of staff, Michael Lanava.

Attorney Matthew Segal of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is representing the plaintiffs, said the Worcester rules are overly broad in their definition of “aggressive panhandling.”

“It can be defined in different ways and sometimes, as is the case in Worcester, it is defined to prohibit actions that are not aggressive,” Segal said. “The ordinance prohibits begging within a half hour of darkness. Someone holding up a sign asking for help with a half hour of daylight left in the day is doing something that is completely protected by the First Amendment and is not aggressive.”

Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBos


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Bloomberg launches $50 million anti-gun violence effort

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million on a grassroots anti-gun violence network to challenge the National Rifle Association.

Local

East Village woman fights off rape attempt from…

An East Village woman fought off an attempted rapist that she woke to find standing on her bed over the weekend, police said.

International

Nearly 300 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years.

Local

Police look for man suspected of threatening Muslim…

Police seek man suspected of calling a teen Muslim girl a "terrorist" and spitting on her multiple times while on a Queens bus.

Books

Poems from prison: 'How to Survive a Bullet…

Celebrate National Poetry Month with, "'How to Survive a Bullet to the Heart."

The Word

Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg are engaged

If Donnie Wahlberg wants to get vaccinated against anything, he should do it soon: he and Jenny McCarthy are engaged, she just announced on "The View."

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, April 16: 'The Americans,'…

'The Americans' Philip and Elizabeth face "painful turns" in their missions. Maybe next week they'll have a nice easy mission with no moral ambiguity? Probably…

Movies

Curtain raiser: The Tribeca Film Festival arrives this…

The Tribeca Film Festival begins its two-week run in Lower Manhattan on Thursday, boasting dozens and dozens of films of all stripes.

NHL

Islanders back to rebuilding mode after disappointing season

One season after qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, the Islanders finished 2013-14 with a 34-37-11 record.

NFL

Jets confident despite Chris Johnson leaving with no…

Jets fans clamored for a playmaker on offense all offseason. It looked like they were going to land that player on Tuesday when Chris Johnson…

NBA

Knicks, Nets rivalry never materialized despite national attention

When the NBA schedule was released, the league anticipated an intense rivalry between the Nets and Knicks with all four games slated for national TV.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

Wellbeing

Could a facelift give you the edge at…

It's not just women lining up for procedures.

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Personalize your massage at a private practice

CityTouch customizes spa treatments to meet client's needs.