The American Civil Liberties Union says laws against panhandling around the country violate free speech rights. The local branch of the ACLU sent letters to 10 cities in New Mexico on Monday, August 28, demanding that they strike down those panhandling bans.
Santa Fe, Rio Rancho and Los Alamos are among the 10 cities in New Mexico targeted by the ACLU. The organization is demanding that they repeal their anti-panhandling laws.
Peter Simonson is executive director of the ACLU in New Mexico. "Panhandling is indeed protected speech," he said. "I think it’s speech that is important for we, as citizens, in our cities to hear. It’s speech that confronts us with the realities of the economic system that we live in."
Criminalizing poverty is never the solution, Simonson says, and federal courts around the U.S. have ruled these bans unconstitutional.
Last year, Gallup repealed its panhandling ban after lawyers pressed the free speech issue. In Albuquerque, a similar ordinance is tied up in court and not being enforced. "Threatening fines and jail time against people who already live on the margins of society and would be only pushed closer to the fringes is not the way to deal with this," Simonson said.
Litigation could be an option, he added, though the local branch doesn’t have the resources for ten separate court cases.
The ACLU of New Mexico sent demand letters to:
- Elephant Butte
- Las Cruces
- Los Alamos
- Los Lunas
- Rio Rancho
- Santa Fe
- Silver City