Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Justice is ignored in council’s approval of panhandling limits



Managing Editor Denis Theriault is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected].

In a gutless and unprincipled move aimed less at justice than at re-election in April, eight of the city’s nine aldermen on Monday approved a panhandling ordinance that severely limits free speech in Evanston.

In passing this law, those aldermen decided truth and compassion were less important than the complaints of senior citizens and others who said they were being “terrorized” by people asking them for money.

“I’m willing to invoke some controls over free speech,” said Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th), who apparently puts more stock in the groundless fears of senior citizens and the dollars of North Shore snobs than compassion for those who don’t have the social capital to twist an alderman’s ear.

“I don’t want to be emptying my pocket on a regular basis,” he added.

They also put their stamp on a law that allows police and residents to engage in racial-profiling, something that at least one alderman was willing to acknowledge Monday night.

“Nobody wants to say that, but that’s what it will amount to,” said Ald. Dennis Drummer (2nd).

Drummer’s vote? Aye.

“It’s a matter of economics,” he said — perhaps thinking of the street traffic outside his own small business, Drummer Drapery Service — when explaining why he lent his support to the measure.

This debate — driven by injustice, intolerance, hypocrisy and money — proves just how soulless this council was.

Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) compared a panhandler’s telling a passer-by he’s just gotten out of jail to someone shouting “fire” in a theater. “That’s designed to induce fear. That’s not about expressing an idea,” Newman said.

Ald. Joseph Kent (5th) disagreed: “‘I just got out of prison’ always meant to me, ‘I just got out of prison.'”

Then Kent voted for the ordinance — despite his concerns that it would target blacks and violate the First Amendment.

Some aldermen seemed to think the ordinance was a good way to shove Evanston’s “urban problems” on its neighbors.

“(A panhandler’s) going to realize there are downtowns in Wilmette, Winnetka and Kenilworth,” Bernstein said. “I’m hopeful that’s going to happen.”

Bernstein even admitted that he thought the ordinance was “repugnant.”

“But other options are worse,” he said.

Worse, and no doubt even more unconstitutional.

“Panhandling is like drug dealing,” Drummer said. “We can be as liberal as we want to be about this. (But) their rights are not greater than mine. These people are breaking the law.”

Well now they are, thanks to City Council.

The only alderman showing any moral decency during this travesty was Ald. Stephen Engelman (7th).

By logging the lone vote against the ordinance, Engelman was the only aldermen willing to back up his convictions that the ordinance is discriminatory and unconstitutional — convictions that some other aldermen seemed to share, until it came time to vote.

More than anyone else during the debate, Engelman raged and raged on behalf of the constitution and the civil rights of the down and out.

But even he had to concede after hearing the ignorance spewed by his fellow aldermen.

“I’m obviously not going to change any minds,” he admitted before firing his last salvo, reiterating that the city likely would cross a constitutional line if the ordinance were approved.

That’s OK, Steve, some minds aren’t worth changing.

Or re-electing.

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Justice is ignored in council’s approval of panhandling limits