Rush hour protest of panhandling rules

Supporters gathered at 15-501 intersection
Mar. 26, 2013 @ 08:24 AM

Panhandlers violating the city’s new roadside solicitation rules had some company during rush hour Monday evening, with about 40 supporters at the intersection of U.S. 15-501 and Mt. Moriah Road in southwest Durham.

The city knew local clergy and others protesting would be gathering at 5 p.m. Monday. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Rutba House, a Christian hospitality house, said earlier Monday that the city and police were aware of their plans for a vigil and to violate the ordinance by walking the medians at the busy intersection.

Durham City Council passed new regulations for solicitation on busy streets that calls for soliciting on one-way streets only, no entrance or exit ramps and solicitors on paved sidewalks, not medians or grassy areas.

Protestors stood on a grassy corner of the intersection near a closed access road, holding banners and signs that read: “Repeal Ordinance 14375” and “Asking for Help is Not a Crime.”

“We’re here trying to say clearly as a community, it should not be a crime to ask for help,” Wilson-Hartgrove, who also is an associate minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, told those gathered. “We’re going to stand vigil to pray for a better solution,” he said, calling for Durham to change the ordinance so it’s not illegal to ask for help. He and a few others took their places on the medians while others sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” with the additional lyrics of “It’s no crime to beg.”

Carolyn Schuldt, executive director of Open Table Ministry, which ministers to homeless camps, told the group that as Jesus looked toward Jerusalem, they are looking toward a better community.

Nearby, Timothy Alred played with his dog, Reese. Alred said the panhandlers appreciated the support. He has been ticketed for violating the new ordinance twice since it went into affect, including one earlier on Monday. He said his court date is in May. Alred said he hopes a lawyer that’s been doing nice things for him and other panhandlers will help make it “not a crime to beg.”

“It’s humbling and humiliating to beg. I never wanted to become a beggar,” Alred said. He said he came to Durham from a small town in Montana in December 2009 for treatment of his arm at Duke Medical Center, but has no insurance. Alred said he stays in a local camp. He thinks the new city ordinance is a violation of free speech.

“The police have been real nice. They’re just doing their job,” he said. Alred said he is a fisherman and hopes his arm will be fixed so he can get back to the sea. “The last thing I want to do is be a beggar,” he said.

Durham attorney Scott Holmes has represented local panhandlers who have been ticketed since the ordinance went into effect mid-January. Wilson-Hartgrove said if he and others were ticketed Monday, Holmes would represent them as well. Wilson-Hartgrove said they wanted to be ticketed so they could challenge the ordinance in court. However, when Durham Police Department officers arrived about 5:30 p.m. Monday, they gave protestors on the medians and at the intersection corner the same pieces of paper – fliers announcing the new Durham roadside solicitation rules.

Standing back from the intersection was William Barnhill Jr., who has received three tickets for panhandling under the new ordinance, including one on Monday. His sign read “Homeless. Out of work. Anything helps. Need and will work.” Barnhill would like the new ordinance revoked.

He said he didn’t appreciate the protestors out to support him Monday night, noting the police.

“It’s drawing heat on me. I’m not going to make no money,” Barnhill said. He was born and raised in Durham, he said, and isn’t going anywhere.

Officers left a few minutes later, and by 6 p.m., the protestors started drifting back to their cars. Wilson-Hartgrove and others continued to walk the medians in orange vests a bit longer, holding cardboard signs that read “Please Help.”