Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 2.28.2014

Criminalizing the Poor: The Ugly Rise of Panhandling Bans

An ugly trend is developing in Colorado communities—a series of panhandling or no-solicitation ordinances designed to silence the poor and homeless and push them into other communities. Despite a victory by the ACLU of Colorado against one of these ordinances in Colorado Springs last year, new attempts have popped up in locations such as Grand Junction, Boulder, Pueblo, and Centennial.

Panhandling bans are often proposed under the guise of public safety, but the ACLU does not oppose legitimate public safety laws curtailing aggressive or threatening behavior. The real intent of these ordinances generally goes much further, hoping to push the homeless from view and hide uncomfortable reminders of extreme poverty in our communities.

The poor are often the first to lose civil liberties, but the Supreme Court has upheld requests for charity as a form of speech, and people do not lose their rights of free speech because they are homeless or poor. It is simply unconstitutional to single out groups of people we don’t like and deny their right to hold a sign quietly or ask for help peaceably.

Often, in an attempt to appear even-handed, these bans are written in a way that would apply to street musicians and Salvation Army bell-ringers, newspaper hawkers and Girl Scout cookie-sellers, advertisers and fund raisers, and sometimes protestors, petition-gatherers or advocates of all kinds. Quickly, it becomes apparent how problematic these ordinances really are.

We should remember that the intended targets of these ordinances, the homeless, are real people with real needs. Among them are veterans and mothers with children, people seeking jobs, people with disabilities or needing mental health care, and people who lost a place to live through bank foreclosure or the Colorado floods last September. Trying to push the homeless out of one location only increases the problem of homelessness in other locations. Far better to face the real issues and address real needs.

The ACLU of Colorado will continue to uphold rights of free speech and other civil liberties for all people in Colorado, including the poor, the homeless, and those targeted as undesirable by communities wishing they would just go somewhere else.



  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people.