City Hall

Dealey Plaza Vendor's Lawyer Has a Very Strong Opinion About New "Solicitation-Free Zones"

Yesterday, in the comments to the item about the city's new-and-improved panhandlingsolicitation ordinance, longtime Friend of Unfair Park Syd Nancy wondered: "Will this affect the JFK Conspiracy Guy who sells stuff down by the Depository?" Syd's referring to Robert Groden, who's currently involved in a legal tussle with the city following his arrest in June for selling his conspiracy-theory materials in Dealey Plaza -- something the House Select Committee on Assassinations and Oliver Stone consultant has been doing for years.

Well, shortly after Syd asked his question, Groden's attorney, Brad Kizzia, shot me an unsolicited e-mail in which he address the ordinance -- which, he insists, is too vague to be properly enforced. Writes Kizzia, "I'm suspicious of the City's intent and how the Dallas Police Department will be asked to apply the ordinance." Jump for his many thoughts on the subject.

Have you read the new ordinance? If not, you should. Nowhere in the law does it even mention begging or panhandling. Rather, the ordinance is specifically aimed at "solicitation," which is broadly defined. I'm suspicious of the City's intent and how the Dallas Police Department will be asked to apply the ordinance.

Recall that Assistant Chief Golbeck publicly declared that the new "crackdown" on vendors in Dealey Plaza was aimed at peddlers who allegedly accosted, cussed at and spit upon tourists; but then, the "crackdown" resulted in the (probably illegal) arrest and incarceration of author Robert Groden for merely trying to sell one of his magazines on the JFK assassination.

Groden never accosted, cussed or spit at anyone, and he was never even accused of that. Rather, he was arrested for selling a publication he wrote even though the ordinance upon which he was originally charged expressly makes an exception for the sale of magazines. So, then what? The City changed the charge to selling a magazine in Dealey Plaza without a permit when that allegedly applicable ordinance doesn't mention the sale of publications or even Dealey Plaza, no such permits exist, and when nothing is posted there purporting to outlaw such First Amendment activity as required by a related ordinance.

Now, the City claims to be going after coercive panhandlers in advance of the Super Bowl by enacting an ordinance that bans "solicitation" in certain areas. Again, Assistant Chief Golbeck was trotted out to justify the need to curtail aggressive panhandlers who allegedly accost and threaten people in or near downtown. Nobody likes that, so sounds reasonable, right?

Maybe, but the devil is in the details. The proposed ordinance is not so limited. Again, "begging" and "panhandling" are not even mentioned in the ordinance. The language of the ordinance's prohibition on "solicitation" is not aimed only at aggressive, coercive, or threatening conduct. Watch it be used against the likes of street musicians in the West End (who leave open their instrument cases for tips) and street preachers who accept donations. Worse, the vagueness of the ordinance may lead to inconsistent enforcement, as has already occurred in Dealey Plaza.

Furthermore, the targeted areas of the new ordinance include Dealey Plaza; but Dealey Plaza is part of the National Historic Landmark District designated by the U.S. Department of Interior since 1993. I seriously doubt the legality of a total prohibition of solicitations in such a federally protected area. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, there are solutions for society's annoyances that sound reasonable and are easy, cheap, but simply wrong.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky