Should panhandlers who don’t coerce, intimidate or defraud anyone be treated like criminals or should they be treated according to the libertarian principle that states if there is no victim there is no crime?
If this is true, and if all politics is local, it’s hard to get more local or libertarian than longtime activist Justin Oliver who took exception to Haltom City’s proposed panhandling ordinance in September. “I also gave a personal statement during the council session” Oliver told Dallas Libertarian Examiner.
The proposition, according to Oliver, claims that solicitation impedes traffic, poses a threat to people, results in trespassing, harms tourism and development, and “greatly increases traffic congestion and distracts drivers.” Much of this, he insists, can be enforced with existing laws while the rest of the proposed law is “troubling or redundant” and even results in “blatant censorship of free speech.”
Further, the penalty for panhandling is excessive. Oliver told the city council, “The fine could be up to $500 plus court costs” for a person already financially desperate and would almost certainly result in jail time. In addition, a person simply asking for change for a ride at a bus stop or someone hitchhiking after running out of gas could go to jail. Then Oliver asked, “Are the charities and local clubs we often see outside of Kroger’s going to think to get advanced written permission from the store manager as they would be required?”
“Most importantly,” Oliver continued, “this ordinance has serious constitutional issues. Passing out campaign literature would be allowed, but holding a sign at a traffic signal asking for donations or for employment wouldn’t be. You can’t reasonably say they are fundamentally different forms of expression or pose any additional traffic problems. The ordinance would strip people of their free expression based on the content of their message and is overly broad to achieve the expressed intent of reducing traffic and improving public safety. And so far, the city hasn’t provided any sufficient evidence I think a court would accept to justify the double standard.”
Oliver then offers his own solutions to the panhandling “problem” in the spirit of individual rights and freedom of choice. “If you don’t like panhandlers, then don’t support them, and they will go elsewhere. You’re even free to hold a sign asking people not to donate. We do have people in our community who support them, and you would be violating our conscience to participate in that exchange by passing this ordinance.”
Unfortunately none of this mattered to the Haltom City Mayor and Police Chief who openly admitted in a video that all they really wanted to do was post signs so panhandlers would go away and become someone else’s problem. The city council unanimously passed the anti-panhandling ordinance October 12.
To libertarians panhandlers who victimize no one are not criminals; they’re just inconveniences to people who don’t want their consciences bothered.