A Charlottesville nonprofit organization is speaking out against proposed ways to address panhandling and unruly behavior on the downtown mall.
The Rutherford Institute is expressing concerns over the North Downtown Residents Association's (NDRA) report discussed during Monday's heated city council meeting. The organization says it wants to make sure the civil liberties perspective isn't left out of the conversation.
"What the report does is it makes it against the law essentially to be poor and sitting down on the downtown mall," said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.
Although the NDRA report doesn't come from the city, council has reviewed the document in looking for ways to address panhandling and unruly behavior on the downtown mall, including considering ordinances that would prohibit sitting within 10 feet of a building and laying on the mall.
"Being within 10 feet of a building and sitting down or laying, you'd have to arrest children, if children want to sit down and eat an ice cream cone," he said. "So it's not well structured."
Whitehead says he's concerned about what the NDRA report could mean for basic rights.
He said, "As far as I'm concerned, the report is criminalizing behavior because you're poor. I mean, loitering, the courts have said that's protected by the Constitution."
He's drafted a letter in hopes of getting the attention of city councilors, explaining how the report poses a threat to civil liberties.
Whitehead says it's time for the community to stop relying on quick fixes and get to the root of the problem that is homelessness.
"Well there are a lot of wealthy people in Charlottesville, obviously we can do something. Pull those people together and let's create centers. I mean you could create a center right off the downtown mall in one of those empty buildings or empty storefronts."
Whitehead is asking the council to put the report on hold and says the Rutherford Institute is open to sitting on a committee. He ends the letter calling the report's proposals unwise and constitutionally infirm.
NBC29 reached out to the city for comment, but we were told it could not give a response because it had not received the letter.
Nonprofit Expresses Concerns about NDRA ReportMore>>
Natalie Wilson joined the NBC29 news team as a general assignment reporter in April 2012.Full Story
Natalie Wilson joined the NBC29 news team as a general assignment reporter in April 2012. She is a proud alum of Howard University and is currently pursuing her Master's in Communication at Johns Hopkins. Email/ Full Story