ACLU files lawsuit against City of Greensboro over panhandling ordinance

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups announced Wednesday that they plan to take legal action against the City of Greensboro.

A lawsuit filed by the ACLU, Legal Aid of North Carolina and and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty claim that an ordinance passed by city council in July is unconstitutional.

The groups said in a news conference Wednesday that the aggressive solicitation ordinance violates free speech and due process protections.

“A number of federal courts across the country have considered aggressive solicitation bans just like the ones Greensboro has right now. All of those bans have been held unconstitutional as a violation of freedom of speech,” said Emily Seawell of the ACLU.

Along with organizations, three Greensboro residents are listed as plaintiffs in the suit. One of them is Zolanda Woods, who said she stopped panhandling when the ordinance passed. Woods said she feared she would unknowingly break the law.

“I want to tell the city council and the rest of the community that people who panhandle or ask for change aren’t aggressive or violent,” she said. "I don’t think anybody is better off giving me a ticket or throwing me in jail just because I’m asking for help.”

Marcus Hyde, with the Homeless Union of Greensboro, said he would rather see council approve support services or more affordable housing for those living in poverty.

"In what warped reality is throwing someone in jail for asking other people for help make that person less likely to need to ask for change?”