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

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Local

Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…

Local

Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…

Movies

Kevin Smith makes peace with the Internet

I was thinking about Ain't It Cool News and Harry Knowles last night, wondering if anyone from Ain't It Cool had reviewed my new movie…

Movies

Art imitates life in 'Swim Little Fish Swim'

There's a certain comfort to be taken in finding that young artists are still moving to New York and trying to make it — and…

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.

NFL

Oday Aboushi ready for increased role, and to…

Oday Aboushi might feel comfortable enough to engage in some trash talk the next time he is on the field.

NFL

Giants vs. Texans: 3 things to watch

The Giants host the surprising Texans (2-0) in what may already be a must-win game for Big Blue.

NFL

Eric Decker misses practice again, could miss Monday

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker missed practice Thursday as he continues to rehab a hamstring injury suffered last Sunday.

MLB

Derek Jeter still focused on baseball as final…

Derek Jeter has effectively hid his emotions for 20 years in the Bronx.

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…