Cleveland councilman proposes ‘aggressive behavior’ law

CLEVELAND- A proposed ordinance in Cleveland City Council would make it a misdemeanor to approach someone on a sidewalk, in a park, or at an ATM in an aggressive or intimidating way.

Ward 3 Councilman, Kerry McCormack, who handles the downtown, Ohio City and Tremont neighborhood says he has gotten repeated complaints about aggressive behavior on the streets, in parks and on sidewalks.

“My residents and business owners reaching out to me very much concerned with some of the escalating behavior in downtown Cleveland so some folks being chased, harassed things like that,” McCormack said.

But there’s concern from Chris Knestrick, the Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, that the law could infringe on free-speech rights and target the poor and homeless.

“We can read into it and see who it’s particularly going to target often in our community when laws like this are passed it particularly impacts poor people, people of color and ultimately homeless people in our community,” Knestrick says.

The proposed ordinance says no one should “approach, seek, or follow a person if that conduct is intended, or likely to cause, a reasonable person to (i) fear bodily harm to oneself or another, (ii) fear damage to or loss of property, (iii) or be intimidated;”

McCormack says the law is not meant to single out the homeless or anyone in particular.

“This does not talk about solicitation of money or anything else like that this is all about when someone really crosses the line and pursues someone and really intimidates folks in an aggressive manner,” McCormack said.

But Knestrick contends that there are already laws on the books to deal with legitimate concerns of harassment, following or intimidation.

“This money that’s going to be put into policing and the criminal justice system could be really benefiting people that are homeless in our community,” Knestrick said.

Cleveland formerly had a law that banned panhandling, but after the ACLU filed lawsuits claiming the laws were unconstitutional and restricted first amendment rights, the city repealed the law.

McCormack’s ordinance was proposed to council on May 21 and still has to go through committee and be voted on.