Monday, May 2, 2011

Mill Avenue - Project S.I.T.

Under Sec. 29-70, sitting on a tree planter would incur a fine (photo by Andrew Candelario)
Mill Avenue, Tempe

Sec. 29-70, also known as a ”sit-lie” law stated, “no person shall sit or lie down upon a public sidewalk or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or any other object not permanently affixed upon a public sidewalk or median.” However, this law does not apply to those that are sitting or lying down due to a medical emergency, disabled and needs a wheelchair, operating a commercial establishment pertaining to a parade, festival, performance, rally, demonstration, or meeting, sitting on a chair or bench supplied by a public agency, sitting within a bus zone while waiting for public or private transportation.1
This "no sitting on the sidewalk" ordinance was created by the anti-homeless legislation, which prohibited sitting and lying down on sidewalks. In 1999 the community challenged this law in Tempe, Arizona, arguing that this law was “unnecessary, cruel, unusual and really just plain asinine.” When the law had passed, community activists and homeless people launched media campaigns toward the city council chambers. The community protested against the no-sitting law by sitting in front of city council stating it was criminalization of homelessness in general. Coincidently, the law took effect on Martin Luther King Day, which was used in the protest since sitting was an important form of legitimate social protest.2
Although these laws were aimed at homeless people, they were diminishing everyone's rights in the process creating a lawsuit that was filed in federal district court against Tempe's sit-lie law. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case arising out of Seattle, had previously upheld this law. The Arizona federal judge wound up issuing an injunction against the Tempe law and thus wiping it off the books on First Amendment grounds.2
Shortly after, a special hearing was held at the ASU College of Law, overturning this decision on an appeal by the Ninth Circuit. In the process of litigating the case and organizing in the streets, many crucial facts that ultimately tipped the balance were brought to light, including: the removal of benches in the downtown area, the privatization of some of the sidewalks, the lack of adequate alternatives such as shelters in the city, the elimination of public restroom facilities and the inordinate influence that the business community had on the city council.2             Though at the end of it all, it was a victory for homeless people everywhere. The courts saw this law of jailing homeless people as a violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.3 Therefore, the law was abolished and put to an end.
Here are some similar Arizona laws aimed at homeless people:
                Phoenix law that makes it illegal to bring a sleeping bag into a public park.
                Tempe laws that make eating or preparing food in a park Illegal.
                Tempe laws that make it illegal to sleep in a park even when the park is open.
                Phoenix law that makes it illegal to have a shopping cart in a park
- Andrew Candelaria, Orlando Menjivar, and Chris Rutherford

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