Action Update: Unequal Enforcement of Panhandling Law

Photo by Pilar Timpane

Last Friday, when we announced that eight local ministers would violate Durham’s anti-panhandling law because we believe it to be an unjust law, I wrote a personal note to Durham’s Police Chief. I told him what we intended to do and where and when we would do it. I assured him of our commitment to nonviolence. We simply wanted to receive a ticket, as so many whom we’ve accompanied to court have, so we might plead not guilty and challenge the law in a higher court.

First thing this morning, we started getting calls from guys who panhandle regularly. The police were showing extreme force, they told us, sending out ten patrol cars at 7:30am and ticketing everyone who was asking for help. Naturally, most of the regulars on that corner fled.

We we arrived at 5pm, however, there was no police presence. Patrol cars did not arrive for another thirty minutes. When they did come, officers handed us flyers explaining the very ordinance we were there to challenge. Then they got back in their cars and drove away.

Our problem now, it seems, is not only an unjust law, but unequal enforcement of it. Two men who panhandle to survive have gone to jail for what we did this evening. Over a dozen people we know have been ticketed. Nine hours before public attention was drawn to this particular intersection, a man was ticketed in the same place for doing the same thing.

But this evening Durham’s police decided that Ordinance 14375 is not a law worth enforcing.

Photo by Pilar Timpane

We agree, of course. But our Constitution requires equal protection under the law. And that is not what we witnessed today–even under a bad law.

So we ask you, as we asked every car that stopped to roll down their windows this evening, to please join us in doing one simple thing:

Write or call Durham’s City Council: or (919) 560­‐4166. Our message is simple: we do not believe it should be a crime to ask for help. Please repeal Ordinance #14375.

It’s Holy Week, and we are looking with Jesus toward the beloved community that we know Durham can and should be. Unfortunately, some of our most vulnerable neighbors are bearing the cross this week. But we cannot continue through this Passion Week without recalling the question of the old hymn: “Must Jesus bear his cross alone / and all the world go free? / No, there’s a cross for everyone, / and there’s a cross for me.”

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