ACLU sues Cranston again over panhandling ban

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — An ordinance that bans panhandling on busy roads in Cranston is the subject of another federal lawsuit accusing the city of violating the First Amendment.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday. It was filed on behalf of a homelessness advocacy group and people who say they’re affected by the ban and takes aim at an ordinance the group says violates people’s right to free speech because it keeps them from soliciting donations and distributing literature.

“It is really sad that we have to criminalize homelessness and poverty,” said Barbara Freitas director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project. “I think that people have a real problem facing homelessness. They see it on the street and they become very uncomfortable.”

The conflict is part of a long-running battle in Cranston, which last year acknowledged a city panhandling ban instituted in 2015 was unconstitutional. The city agreed to settle a different ACLU lawsuit and stop enforcing the ordinance.

The new ordinance was described as a safety measure when it passed the City Council 5-4 in February.

Mayor Allan Fung said in a statement Tuesday that he stands by the ordinance and is prepared to defend it in court.

“The ordinance does not restrict speech, does not target any specific form of solicitation or any specific person or group of people. The narrowly tailored ordinance is simply a tool to prevent dangerous circumstances within busy roadways and intersections,” Fung said.

Lynette Labinger, the attorney representing the ACLU, said the ordinance is similar to the one the city already acknowledged was unconstitutional, and said it still covers the same kinds of activities.

Karen Rosenberg, a member of the Cranston Action Network and who is among the people suing the city, said the ordinance keeps her from passing out flyers about issues that are important to her.

“Any law that interferes with my ability to communicate with other members of my community is very troubling to me,” she said.

(Copyright (c) 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)