Constitutionally Suspect or Economically Suspect


root - Posted on 01 March 2000

POOR Magazine contributor D'Shawn Williams responds to the recent ruling by the State supreme court to block Free speech defenses for panhandlers.

by D'Shawn Williams

I close my eyes for just a moment and dream
that...... ....the soft whish of car exhaust brushing
past my face is actually a warm tropical breeze from
an island I have never vacationed on.

I know that warm air, that smell I used to have a car
- I used to drive up Second street towards the Long
Beach Freeway out of the city. into the warm
recesses of the adjoining suburban landscapes.

Aaaaah to be going HOME.. home, with a plumbing
problem and a temperamental sprinkler system, or
even a temperamental landlord- these aren't my
"problems" any more - my life such as it was - was
based on a reality I could not maintain- their were
too many demons in my head - to close them out -
post traumatic stress syndrome - that's what the
therapists called it when I returned from home from
Vietnam. After maintaining a home, 40 to 50 hour a
week inventory and warehousing job and even a
spouse - I cracked - the one paycheck away from
homelessness adage applied, and within weeks I
was down to my last dollar -

Fast Forward six years - I am feeling your car
exhaust against my calves - my mind wanders to
comforts of days past and I beg for your spare
change. I have tried to get into a recovery program,
but in Los Angeles as in most places across the
country, access to recovery programs and mental
health services for low-income people are almost
non-existent.

The State Supreme Court gave a nod to municipal anti-begging laws this Thursday, ruling that they do not regulate the content of a person's speech and are not "constitutionally suspect."

The 5-2 ruling has no bearing on Los Angeles' attempt to ban so-called aggressive panhandling because the ordinance is blocked in federal court. But the recent ruling basically robs me and my fellow panhandlers of the ability to defend our right to freedom of speech.

The sad fact is, certain members of the community just don't want poor people such as myself in sight, just as Mayor Daly didn't want to see young African-American youth standing on street corners in Chicago (until the Supreme court ruled to the contrary on that case).

All I'm saying is eradicating images and individuals in poverty doesn't take away the problem or help the individual who is suffering - it just furthers the urban trend of economic apartheid. I'm not going to hurt you just because I am here, I am just here.

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