Ward 16 Cleveland City Councilman Brian Kazy has received a "growing" number of resident complaints about people asking for money at highway exits.
Kazy, whose ward includes a healthy amount of highway territory, including parts of I-90, I-480 and I-71, did what any well-read and well-informed councilman would do in response: He reminded those residents that asking for money, either verbally or with a sign, is protected speech and that Cleveland, after being sued by the ACLU in 2017, repealed its panhandling ordinance.
Instead, in an interview with Channel 5, Kazy admitted knowing it was constitutionally protected behavior but said Cleveland police can get "creative" in curtailing those rights.
“We’re going to start using enforcement by Cleveland police to get them off of the off ramps and out from underneath the bridges,” Kazy told Channel 5. "There’s loitering, there’s impeding the flow of traffic, there’s a couple of creative ways that CPD can go ahead and enforce them.”
It's unclear what "enforcement" he's talking about here, given that Cleveland doesn't have a loitering ordinance and people asking for money don't stand in the middle of the road. Most likely, Kazy is talking about simply using the police to move them from where they have every right to be, and using "creativity" to do so under illegal means.
"The City should be looking for creative ways to get people out of poverty, not trying to find a way to limit people's First Amendment right to ask for help," says Joe Mead, a CSU law professor and Associate General Counsel of the ACLU of Ohio who has worked on panhandling lawsuits locally. "This seems as good a time as any to remind the councilman — and all of Cleveland — that there is no city law prohibiting loitering, and that such laws have been struck down by the Supreme Court. The motorists cited in the article all seem to agree that panhandlers haven't been a problem for traffic flow or safety of motorists."
Kazy also latched onto a Linda Taylor moment, telling the station some people collect "up to $500 a day" and that one person was found who "lives in Parma, works at the Jack Casino, and then stands at West 150th and I-71 on his days off collecting cash.” Nevermind that it doesn't much matter where someone lives, or if they have a job, or if that job doesn't cover all of their expenses, or anything at all, except that they can stand there and ask for money all they want, because it's protected speech.
(Not for nothing, but WKYC spent time with those who ask for money at exit ramps a few years ago and found, much to no one's surprise, that the reality is $15 to $25 a day.)
Summit County late last year repealed its panhandling ordinance, which had targeted those who ask for money alongside exit ramps, after a lawsuit by the ACLU of Ohio.