In October 2022, the city of Dallas passed an ordinance prohibiting pedestrians from standing or walking on medians, the violation of which could lead to a $500 fine. On Wednesday two homeless people along with two other plaintiffs from advocate groups for the unhoused filed a lawsuit against the city, interim Dallas City Marshal David Pughes and Dallas police Chief Eddie Garcia for Frist Amendment rights violations.
The ordinance states that it is based on a study of pedestrian fatalities and traffic studies, but the plaintiffs, among whom are an activist for the Dallas Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and a University of Texas at Arlington professor, argue that the ordinance comes after a “multi-year campaign to target and criminally punish panhandling.”
Panhandling can’t be prohibited outright due to a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that stated that the First Amendment covers “charitable appeals for funds.” This is why the civil rights organizations think this appeal to public safety is just a way the city found to workaround the SCOTUS ruling.
“The testimony given by city council members was very obvious – they wanted an anti-panhandling law,” said Hannah Lebovits, plaintiff in the lawsuit and assistant professor of public affairs and planning at the University of Texas at Arlington (via D Magazine). “They don’t care about lawsuits, and they deeply underestimate the interest of the public in things like this, and the ability of the public to mobilize.”
The First Amendment lawsuit was filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project along with SMU First Amendment Law Clinic and Dallas law firm Waters Kraus & Paul on behalf of the plaintiffs. The document claims that the ordinance, by prohibiting anyone from standing on a curb, in addition to disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable population in the city would also criminalize anyone in Dallas using medians and areas next to roadways to exercise their Frist Amendment rights.
“Recognizing that such a targeted attack would violate the First Amendment’s prohibition on content discrimination, the City manufactured an unjustified ‘public safety’ rationale … and attempted to disguise the Ordinance’s real purpose by criminalizing a broad array of speech,” argues the filing.
In case you missed it, here’s Local Profile’s report on Plano city council dedicating $138,000 to homeless assistance.