(this article has been edited to reflect a weather-related schedule change; the event is now slated for April 6)
by Jeremy Morrison
Local musicians are organizing a street-performance protest against the city of Pensacola’s proposed ordinance targeting panhandlers — as well as sidewalk musicians, or “buskers” — in the downtown area.
Event organizer Nathan Marona said he considered the proposed ordinance an attempt to “criminalize homelessness.” In a press release regarding the protest, he said he opposed the ordinance’s passage in any form and questioned city officials’ rationale for the law.
“City Council is trying to say the ban is about panhandling and asking for money, not homelessness, but that’s simply not the case.” Marona said. “People ask me for help, and they’re polite ninety-nine percent of the time. If I can’t handle a yes or no question from a homeless person, I just probably shouldn’t go out. They’re only downtown because that is where locals and tourists with money to spare come to spend it.”
The city of Pensacola is currently considering an ordinance which would prohibit the soliciting of money, in whatever form, in the downtown core. The proposal was triggered last fall when the Downtown Improvement Board complained about panhandling, citing safety and business concerns. If passed, individuals found to be in violation of the ordinance would be fined $50 for the first offense, with each following offense resulting in an additional fine up to $400.
Critics of the proposed ordinance cite civil right concerns and question the law’s constitutionality. They charge that the ordinance will target the homeless population, with the eventual result — after not paying fines, failing to appear for court dates — being incarceration.
The “busking” protest is being planned for April 6. After rendezvousing at 7:30 p.m. at Plaza Ferdinand, musicians will disperse along South Palafox Street. The objective is to raise awareness about the proposed ordinance and its impact.
Marona said that the protest participants would not be busking in the classical sense.
“We will be ‘busking,’ but not for money,” he explained. “We are discouraging participants from accepting money because that would be us taking potential income away from any actual homeless people that are busking downtown for their livelihood. If someone is adamant about giving a performer money, we are working on finding an organization to give that to that works with the homeless population, but consciousness-raising is our main goal.”
To find out more about Busking Against the Pensacola Panhandling Ordinance, click here.
For background on Pensacola’s proposed panhandling ordinance, read “Pensacola Plans to Rid the Downtown of Panhandlers,” and “Pensacola’s Downtown Scrub Down.”