INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - The next chapter in the city's panhandling saga has started. The American Civil Liberties Union is now suing the city on behalf of four people who say they were unlawfully ordered to move by IMPD for requesting donations within the past week.
This is Melissa Peppers-Fordham's first day panhandling on the streets of Indianapolis. She lost her job last night, and this is how she's getting by for now.
"We're fighting for people to be able to exercise their first amendment rights. That's a very important right for all of us, and it comes up in many shapes and forms and this is one of the forms it comes up in," said ACLU Indiana Legal Director, Ken Falk.
The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit alleging the city has overstepped its own ordinance by ordering panhandlers to move.
"The problem is what the city is doing now is it's preventing people who are acting within the statute, acting as allowed by Indiana law, from seeking money and that violates the first amendment," said Falk.
Freedom of speech; it's what the ACLU alleges four panhandlers were denied by IMPD officers. The lawsuit now demands the city stop "depriving people of their right to seek contributions."
Falk says it's no different than volunteers asking for money for say, a cancer charity.
The difference, he says, is that these people can't defend themselves. That’s where the ACLU steps in.
"I think it's always important to prevent the government from going too far, from overreaching, and I particularly think it's important to stand up to protect people who otherwise have no voice and these are people who have no voice," said Falk.
Melissa says it's all she has until another job comes along. Falk says she's allowed to ask, and just like the hundreds who walk by her, they're allowed to ignore.
"The first amendment allows us to make statements, and also allows us to ignore those statements and I think the city is doing a very bad job of ignoring this. I think the city is not allowed to suppress things it doesn't like," said Falk.
This isn't the first time the ACLU has filed lawsuit on this subject. About a decade ago, it lost a case when it tried to block Indiana's regulation of panhandling. The judge ruled those regulations were in line with the constitution.
The city hasn't commented on the lawsuit, because it hasn't seen it yet. It's being served to them on Monday.
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