ACLU Not Sitting Still for Ordinances on Sidewalks, Panhandling
Lawsuit filed against Municipality of Anchorage
ANCHORAGE - They said it could have been avoided.
The ACLU is representing a performance artist, a libertarian politician, the AFL-CIO and a few other individuals and organizations.
Its executive director and lead attorney say this is a last resort, after efforts to negotiate with the municipality never came to fruition.
The groups and individuals suing the Municipality of Anchorage say that the sidewalk-sitting and panhandling ordinances strike against the most basic of American freedoms -- the right to express protest and the right to speak, even to ask for money.
"We tried for over a year to work this out with the municipality,” said ACLU attorney Joshua Decker. “Hope springs eternal that perhaps the municipality will agree that these laws are constitutionally problematic and work to rectify them. If it doesn't, that's why we have judges."
The lawsuit came as a pleasant surprise to John Martin, the homeless man who has been a thorn in the side of Mayor Dan Sullivan by staking out space on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, protesting the confiscation of survival gear from homeless camps.
"Glad to hear it,” Martin said. “Wonderful news. Thank you ACLU. And thank you God. He has his ways."
"And it's not simply a homeless individual saying brother can you spare a dime, it's the Salvation Army trying to fill the red cans at Christmas, it's firefighters trying to fill the boot, it's Girl Scouts selling cookies, it's little kids with lemonade stands. All of those are illegal under this law."
Performance artist and magazine publisher Teeka Ballas, the lead plaintiff, said, "Having traveled, studied and worked in many countries abroad, I have experienced life without these rights, and passionately abhor the idea and the laws that strip Americans of these rights on our own soil."
The assembly repealed the sidewalk-sitting portion of the ordinance last fall, but Sullivan swiftly vetoed the repeal.
Now the ACLU says it hopes for a settlement with the city. But if not, a Superior Court judge will make the call.
There was no response.