DENVER – This afternoon, the Colorado Springs City Council will once again consider a controversial proposal to make it a crime, punishable by up to a $500 fine on first offense and up to 90 days in jail on second offense, to sit, kneel, recline, or lie down on curbs and sidewalks downtown.
Prepared Remarks of ACLU of Colorado Field Coordinator Alejandra Garza to the Colorado Springs City Council on the proposed “Sit/Lie” Ordinance:
The ACLU of Colorado strongly opposes the ordinance before the Council today, as we oppose any new laws that make it a crime to use public spaces, especially those that disproportionately target people who are homeless or living in poverty.
As we have said repeatedly to this Council for months, there is no public safety justification for making it a crime to sit.
If this Council moves forward with this proposal, it will become a criminal act for my 7-year-old daughter to sit or kneel down to tie her shoes. That is the very definition of absurd.
Of course, we all know that this new law will not be enforced against me or my daughter. It is intended entirely to give the police another tool of selective enforcement to target and harass people who are homeless or living in poverty and have nowhere else to go.
Far too often, this city’s approach to poverty and homelessness has been criminalization. Several months ago, an ACLU of Colorado investigation revealed hundreds of cases where Colorado Springs, at all levels of its justice system, enforced unconstitutional panhandling ordinances against poor and homeless persons who were not actually violating those ordinances, persons who were merely displaying a sign asking for charity.
An additional ACLU investigation found that hundreds of fines that were handed out to poor and homeless individuals for non-jailable offenses were then converted to jail sentences, setting up a kind of debtor’s prison in Colorado Springs.
Given the recent history, it is extremely hard to believe that this ordinance will be enforced correctly and that poor and homeless people will not be wrongly jailed, at the taxpayers’ expense, if this new law were to pass.
We welcome the City’s decision to repeal the unconstitutional provisions of the panhandling ordinances later in today’s meeting. Unfortunately, at the same time this Council is removing one unconstitutional way that poor people have been unjustifiably targeted, it is considering putting in place a wrong-headed proposal to make it a crime to sit on the public sidewalk. The Council, the police, and the courts should focus their time and resources on actual crimes with actual victims, not rounding up and harassing people who are doing nothing more than sitting.
ACLU Wins Dismissal of Hundreds of Panhandling Charges in Colorado Springs: http://aclu-co.org/aclu-wins-dismissal-of-hundreds-of-panhandling-charges-in-colorado-springs/
Colorado Springs Sentences Hundreds of Impoverished People to Debtors’ Prison in Violation of U.S Constitution and State Law: http://aclu-co.org/colorado-springs-sentences-hundreds-of-impoverished-people-to-debtors-prison-in-violation-of-u-s-constitution-and-state-law/
ACLU of Colorado Statement on the Proposed “Sit-Lie” Ordinance in Colorado Springs (8/24/15): http://aclu-co.org/aclu-of-colorado-statement-on-the-proposed-sit-lie-ordinance-in-colorado-springs/