A few days ago I chose to violate a local Xenia City ordinance that I consider to be immoral, unethical and unconstitutional. I was not aware that Xenia passed an ordinance banning panhandling until I met a woman who was released from the local jail. When she was released she had no cash, no phone, no car and nobody to help her out. As a result she did what would come natural to most human beings: she asked another person for help.
Her verbalizing the need for help to another person instantly caused her to become a criminal. Under Xenia ordinance 13-31, one may not ask another person for financial assistance within 20 feet of a public sidewalk or a business or public building doorway. This more or less includes over 90% of the area of the city, putting those in need in an impossible situation. Worse, this ordinance criminalized speech; the action of uttering certain words in a public space is now a 4th degree misdemeanor and can land someone in jail for up to 30 days.
<iframe src=”//player.vimeo.com/video/119646554″ width=”500″ height=”281″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/119646554″>Panhandling in Xenia, Ohio</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/greeneherald”>Greene County Herald</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
This woman was literally cornered in a local store by two Xenia police officers who were peppering her with questions and threatening her with arrest. She was desperate and frustrated (as anyone in that situation would be) and was about to get arrested. Fortunately I gave her a ride to the bus hub in Dayton. I offered her cash and food and she turned both down because someone else already gave her a few dollars for a bus ride. Her honesty broke my heart. She could have easily taken $20 from me but she still refused. She could have easily ended up back in a jail cell simply because she uttered some words to a stranger who instead of saying “no, I don’t want to help you” chose to call armed men to deal with her.
Once I was made aware of the existence of this ordinance I made the decision to put my actions where my words are. I wired myself with a camera, a sign stating “Help the Poor, Need $ and Food” and spent about an hour and a half in front of the Xenia City Hall asking random stranger walking by for cash. Most people were very kind and helpful. Many stopped to talk to me and pointed me to Joshua Tree and a local Red Cross shelter. A social worked stopped by to offer me popcorn and kindly offered me a list of resources that would help; she was not aware that panhandling was illegal either. One Xenia city employee walked by and responded to my question for cash with a rude “Please leave me alone!” Another employee came out and gave me cash. There was a wide range of responses from all kinds of people.
It was a humbling experience to stand in the cold wind with a cardboard sign and beg people for money. I never harassed anyone, assaulted anyone or otherwise aggressively approached another person. All I did was utter words to others who walked by. Because of this, a Xenia Police captain came out and gave me a citation for violating ordinance 13-31. In essence I received a ticket for a 4th degree misdemeanor simply for speaking certain words in a public space. To demonstrate the absurdity of this ordinance I even clarified to both police and those who gave me cash that it would all be donated to charity. Incredibly, it did not matter and this immoral law was still enforced.
The hidden video I put together of the panhandling went viral; it has been seen by thousands and thousands of people all over the world. Xenia is yet again the butt of jokes, and not because citybureaucrats are telling citizens what colors to paint their homes, or because a local teenager decided totake a bath in the Burger King sink. Xenia is now the butt of jokes because they are indirectly making a claim of ownership over anyone who stands or walks on a public sidewalk.
How else could one explain the insistence of the city council to dictate what words one can speak in public? Or how else could they dictate what words to write on a sign that one holds in his hands in a public space? Public servants do not have the authority to do such things; masters however do. And that is exactly how these Xenia politicians behave, like masters who have made a claim of ownership over one’s body.
By dictating the nature of speech in a public space, the City of Xenia has directly violated the first amendment of the United States Constitution. Of course, they deny this. They are now in full damage control mode. Less than twenty-four hours after I challenged their ordinance, they created a website where they are trying to address poverty in town by explaining why panhandling should be illegal. Their bureaucrats are desperately trying to control the narrative by saying that they only banned “aggressive panhandling” and not all panhandling. Of course they never explained why their police still ticketed me for very peaceful panhandling if the ordinance only bans aggressive action.
If all this is not bad enough, the Xenia prosecutor, Ronald C. Lewis, was charged with tax fraud less just a few months ago. He claimed that he simply forgot to pay taxes on income he made on the side; he called it “an honest mistake.” No worries though, the municipal judge let him off the hook. In a lame attempt to erase history and obvious criminal activity he even ordered that all documentation of the charges be stricken from the record. This will be the guy prosecuting me for peacefully standing on a public sidewalk; yes, a criminal prosecuting a peaceful activist.
You see how easy it is for those in power to get away with serious crimes? It is almost like magic. Those of us who do not wear black robes and blue uniforms are often looked at as property by those in power. Judges, politicians and police are in essence running this new plantation where the poor and the disenfranchised are barely allowed to exist.
Our only role is to provide funds through taxation so that these highly corrupt machinations of governments can continue to provide salaries and retirement funds for those who have careers in government. Little else matters.
Regardless of what your role in government is, it is time for you to realize that in essence you are simply just a parasite on the back of those of us who actually produce tangible value in a real marketplace. Government bureaucrats do not produce anything. They accept tax dollars with their left hand, take a certain amount off the top to pay their own salaries and retirement funds and then pass what remains to corporations that build roads, take out the trash and bring electricity to our homes. They call this “public servitude.” It is much like panhandling. Just a lot more dishonest; a panhandler is honest about why he is asking for cash. Government employees mostly lie about why the money is needed.