9-99 "The City of Brotherly WHAT?"

January 19, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU News Wire: 1-19-99 “The City of Brotherly WHAT?”

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania vowed to file a federal lawsuit to block an ordinance taking effect today that allows police to fine and remove vagrants on city sidewalks, Associated Press reports.

The lawsuit will be filed on behalf of the homeless, ACLU legal director Stefan Presser said Monday.

Homeless advocates lay down on the sidewalks along a busy shopping district Monday to protest the “sidewalk behavior” ordinance that outlaws lying or sitting on sidewalks.

About 100 protesters bearing signs reading “The City of Brotherly WHAT?” and chanting “Stop the war on the poor” staged a rally at City Hall then walked to the posh Rittenhouse Square area, where they lay down in the rain along a two-block stretch of sidewalk, according to AP.

“This is a bill specifically targeting the homeless, and that’s fundamentally unfair,” said William O’Brien of Project H.O.M.E, a nonprofit group that helps the homeless find housing and jobs. “It says some people are welcome in Philadelphia and some are not.”

The ordinance also offers more shelter beds, mental-health programs and substance-abuse counseling. Advocates say it will help the homeless by providing treatment when needed.

But opponents say the measure criminalizes homelessness and violates the right to free speech.

Under the measure, aggressive panhandling could result in a $100 fine. Sitting or lying on a public sidewalk for more than one hour in a two-hour period could bring a $20 fine.

Protesters of a similar sidewalk ban in downtown Tempe, Ariz., held a sit-in honoring Martin Luther King Jr. The ban, which took effect Sunday, carries a fine of up to $500 and 30 days in jail.

“It’s not about sitting. It’s about one group attacking another,” said protester Luis Fernandez, a 29-year-old researcher.

Cities from New York to San Francisco are tightening restrictions on sleeping and begging in public places, according to a report released this month by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Source: Associated Press

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