To understand how this police surveillance targets the poor in public space, we must examine the local historical context. Officials took similar measures in Northampton’s recent past, and like this one, also framed them as preventing crime and violence. However, in reality, they harmed poor people and were eventually defeated.
In 2008, the City Council considered legislation that would have de facto criminalized people’s First Amendment right to panhandle. The legislation was purportedly “anti-aggressive panhandling,” but laws against harassment and assault were already on the books. There was no need for a class-specific law. And the ordinance created conditions that made it impossible to panhandle at all, even peacefully. After massive public protest and packed City Council meetings, the ordinance was withdrawn from council consideration.