ACLU sues the city over new ‘pedestrian safety ordinance’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The ACLU is suing to stop the city’s new pedestrian safety law. In the suit, the civil rights group calls the law a guise to target panhandlers.

“They’re not fooling anyone that this is an effort by the city to sweep homeless people, low income people, people that are soliciting public donations, out of the public view,” said Maria Martinez-Sanchez, an attorney for the ACLLU.

She said the new “pedestrian safety ordinance” is not what the city says it is.

“What they did was pass a sweeping ordinance that essentially prohibits people from standing on medians, sidewalks,” said Martinez-Sanchez.

She said five people have filed the suit, two are panhandlers, another two give money to them.

“If they could go to jail over it, they’re thinking twice about whether or not they’ll still be able to do that,” she said.

The last person on the suit hands out political literature around the city.

“This lawsuit also effects people who wish to engage in political speech,” said Martinez-Sanchez.

Read the lawsuit >>

City Councilor Trudy Jones introduced the ordinance, which effectively outlaws soliciting donations from drivers from sidewalks, medians and off-ramps, but she refused to call it a panhandling ban.

“The most important things in our city is to keep it safe,” Jones said in an interview last year. She said it’s dangerous for pedestrians and drivers to interact in the street.

The ordinance says drivers can be cited for giving money or food to panhandlers.

“From a legal perspective and it is just downright, unconstitutional,” said Martinez-Sanchez.

Some people think the ordinance doesn’t really do anything.

“I figure if they’re not panhandling they’re gonna figure out how to get money out there anyways,” said Marc Quetone.

The law went into effect last week. Back in 2004, the city passed a ban on panhandling in certain places. The ACLU sued and that law was struck down.

The lawsuit also quotes Trudy Jones saying “we have to take our streets back — and if that means panhandlers go to other cities — then so be it.” KRQE News 13 reached out to Councilor Jones for comment on the lawsuit, but have not heard back.

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