Now Legal Speech in Michigan: “Cold and Hungry, God Bless”

On July 4 of last year, Grand Rapids cops arrested Air Force veteran Ernest Sims for asking a passerby “Can you spare a little change?” Two days earlier, James Speet was also arrested, for holding a sign that read, “Need Job, God Bless.” Seven months earlier, Speet was arrested and jailed for holding a sign that read, “Cold and Hungry, God Bless.”

On Friday, a Grand Rapids judge, Robert Jonker, ruled those arrests–and the MI law on which they were based–unconstitutional.

While I’m grateful that it is now legal to hold a sign in MI asking for work, I’m still appalled that a judge had to point out the problem with this logic to MI’s Attorney General, Bill Schuette.

The State of Michigan and the City of Grand Rapids (collectively, the “government”) assert that Michigan’s statutory ban on public begging is constitutional on its face, and they emphasize that the statute serves several desirable purposes. According to the government, the ban helps businesses, because the presence of people begging in or near business establishments may deter others from patronizing those businesses. The government also emphasizes that the ban on begging helps prevent fraud, because beggars may not use the contributions for the purposes donors intend. Indeed, the government observes, some beggars may use such contributions for alcohol and illegal drugs. The government also points out that begging can be intimidating or annoying to others and that the ban helps protect the public from harassment.

Because God forbid a man hurt someone’s business by holding a sign asking for work.


8 replies
  1. KWinIA says:

    If you’re really concerned that the person begging will misuse the money, invite him to lunch. There are also times that I’d love to pay someone to mow my lawn. I have hired people I didn’t know to help me clean and organise my garage before. They were very helpful.

  2. KWinIA says:

    I found the court case very good reading. I found it interesting that Sims was receiving state disability payments, but no mention was made of VA disability payments. Was he not disabled while serving?

  3. thatvisionthing says:

    Going back and forth between here and a Naked Capitalism interview of Food Not Bombs activist Nathan Pim in Tampa.

    Nathan Pim: Part of the reason it was also done in Florida in combination with the RNC is because Florida has been really on the cutting edge of coming up with discriminatory laws against the homeless, and I’ve been dealing with that in Fort Lauderdale a lot. There’s been people in Orlando [here –lambert] and Tampa and St. Pete and Tallahassee. I mean, just like every area of Florida, the different cities are coming up with different ways to try to make the homeless feel as unwelcome as possible in their cities. … What happened was, last year when things were bad in Orlando, there were a bunch of people being arrested because they passed a sharing ban, and they got the lawsuits out of the way and were finally able to enforce it and a bunch of people got arrested…

    prompting commenter Jill to say:

    Partisan politics are an impedement to solving problems. You can’t beg people who wall themselves up at conventions and in “the beast” (Obama’s heavily armed presidential vehical) to make things better. They show by their very actions that they do not give a shit. They don’t want to know and they have no intention of helping anyone outside their walls.

    It therefore lies to us to care about each other. Sharing is ridiculed in our society, for a reason. It’s a very dangerous idea. The idea that we can share things starts to make a whole lot of consumer culture unncessary. It starts to form alliances between people and prevents “strategic hate management” from being effective. It can even make irrelevant, the political, media class and their minions.

    The answers do not lie behind walls but between people.

    which led to reply by just me:

    What I wouldn’t give to see what Obama’s response would be to a street begger! Debate question?

  4. KWinIA says:

    It’s amusing to think that Michigan might have arrested Red Skelton when he was playing Freddie the Freeloader. He always finished his act with “May God Bless”.

  5. BSbafflesbrains says:

    Politicians should be thankful our new God is in the blessing business instead of the old God that was in the smiting business. Christians all I’m sure who praise our lord and savior but they sure don’t do what Jesus would do.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Ironic that this was Grand Rapids and not, say, Hamtramck or Saginaw, where there might be as many people holding up signs as those who have a job. I guess Michigan, being the unemployment capital of America, isn’t supposed to express itself by allowing its down at heel unemployed ask for work.

  7. bell says:


    what a @’up society.. doing a ban on sharing sounds about right – it might put a dent in consumer societies appetite,. laws designed to protect businesses, not people..sounds like the end of times..

    quote from article “The government also emphasizes that the ban on begging helps prevent fraud”
    i suppose they are going to ban advertising, politicians, bankers and a lot of other activities too for the same reason? lol.. no, this is selective punishment from the religious pariah masquerading as a democratic society called the u.s.a.

  8. thatvisionthing says:

    I saw this comment yesterday on Craig Murray’s UK blog. It was news to me:

    26 Aug, 2012 – 2:01 am

    Last week a US marine was arrested by police and taken to a mental hospital. He had not committed a crime. He had posted anti US government opinions on his PRIVATE Facebook.


    From the article itself:

    by Jim W. Dean, VT Editor

    The Brandon R a u b case began going nationwide today when the dust has not even settled on the Government’s involuntary commitment case being shot down in flames by Prince George County Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett, who threw the whole thing out as being totally groundless.

    By this strange quirk of fate it is beginning to look like this veteran’s case has exposed a coordinated program out of the Department of Homeland Security.

    The goal is to build case file statistics of veterans being committed for mental evaluation to punish them for their political views toward the government.

    These files can then be used to build a trumped up case for closer permanent monitoring of combat veterans. Are you getting the picture of who they are trying to intimidate?

    and includes a quote that made me think of Jeff Kaye:

    Brandon told his attorney that while in the psyc ward a shrink told him he was going to brain wash him and force him to take medication. Welcome to the new America folks, where highly paid government officials have no oath of office problems in doing such things.

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