ACLU Files Lawsuit Against OKC Over Panhandling Ordinance

Wednesday, April 13th 2016, 6:05 pm
By: Dana Hertneky

Oklahoma City's new law restricting panhandling on medians is now being challenged in federal court.

A handful of citizens and the ACLU delivered a copy of the lawsuit to the city Wednesday. Attorneys and citizens who filed the lawsuit say it prevents everyone from going on the median and that is unconstitutional.

Calvin McGraw used to be homeless, but after he started selling the Curbside Chronicle, he was able to afford housing and get back on his feet.

However, he said having to stay off the median could put him back on the streets.

“I used to sell about 30 to 50 a day, now I’m selling 10 or less, it’s really hurt me,” said McGraw on Wednesday afternoon as he walked along the sidewalk near 23rd and Broadway.

McGraw is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit which alleges the city's ordinance that bans all activity on public medians is a violation for the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 

ACLU Article: ACLU, Legal Aid Services File Federal Lawsuit To Overturn OKC Anti-Panhandling Ordinance

“This ordinance makes it a crime to walk a dog in my own neighborhood if it’s on a small grassy median, it makes it a crime for me to stand on a median and cheer for a runner during the Oklahoma City Marathon,” said Brady Henderson with the Oklahoma ACLU.

Wednesday morning, attorneys with the ACLU representing McGraw and the six other plaintiffs delivered the lawsuit to the city. They're asking a judge to overturn the ordinance. 

“The city cannot simply cloak it’s targeted anti-panhandling law in the guise of a traffic safety measure, that’s just a sham that’s not worthy of elected government,” said Joseph Thai, a private attorney who is working with the ACLU and Legal Aid on the lawsuit.

Attorneys say they are willing to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.  

Unfortunately, that's likely too far down the road for Calvin.

“It’s not going to be sustainable for much longer I know that,” said McGraw referring to how much longer he can survive by selling the magazine.

A city spokesperson said they couldn't comment on the pending legislation.