'The Contributor' sues Brentwood over alleged civil rights violations

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 4:44pm

The Contributor, Nashville’s street newspaper, sued the city of Brentwood Wednesday to stop police from giving tickets to homeless people for selling the paper in public places.

The ACLU, which is representing The Contributor in the federal civil rights lawsuit, said Brentwood was violating the newspaper’s free speech and free press rights.

The Contributor, which sells for $1, is printed by a nonprofit organization to educate the public about homelessness and to help the homeless financially. Nearly 400 homeless and formerly homeless people sold 117,000 copies in the last month. Selling it has helped some earn enough money to find homes.

“This newspaper is all about the entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country great,” said Calvin Hart, one of the newspaper’s vendors who was ticketed in Brentwood and joined the lawsuit as one plaintiff. “The selling of this newspaper is important because it allows the people in the community to directly help the less fortunate. It’s a win-win situation.”

Brentwood city attorney Roger Horner did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. The city says The Contributor is violating an ordinance that bans the sale of merchandise on “any portion of the public street, alley, sidewalk or right of way …”

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the Brentwood ordinance unconstitutional. A Brentwood judge upheld the ordinance in March, forcing The Contributor to pay a fine of $200.

“Our mission at The Contributor is to highlight issues faced by those in the homeless and poverty populations. The city of Brentwood is not only limiting our message but also our efforts to create a sense of community between our vendors and our customers,” said Tasha French, executive director of The Contributor.

The City of Brentwood issued a statement Wednesday evening saying its primary concern is public safety, and that its ordinance is applied equally. 

"Walking into a public street to sell newspapers or anything else creates a safety risk," the statement said. "It is not the city's intention to prohibit the sale of newspapers, nor does the city wish to discriminate against anyone, including persons who happen to be homeless." 

52 Comments on this post:

By: RTungsten on 6/29/11 at 3:59

Well, I guess I've bought my last paper The Contributor. I have zero tolerance for this type of BS. It's not like the homeless don't command every street corner in Nashville, or exit from businesses only causing traffic to clog up. Good for Brentwood, I hope they win (again).

If I were The Tennessean, I'd stick people on corners selling papers for $.50 next to The Contributor and see what they think of that. It's a free market, right?

By: David_S on 6/29/11 at 4:06

About every other morning I see what could easily turn into an accident when someone on an exit ramp from the interstate slams on their brakes so they can buy a paper from these guys. If you want to sell your crappy paper (which is, after all, poorly written and extremely dis-interesting), do it somewhere you are not affecting traffic and causing near-accidents.

By: slzy on 6/29/11 at 5:30

i doubt if you could give away the tennessean.

By: Nitzche on 6/29/11 at 6:50

what the aclu is involved? must be a muslim trying to sell this paper? the minute they find out these homeless people are christian , they will be outttta here

By: pswindle on 6/29/11 at 8:41

I always buy a paper, and it is my pleasure to do so. I only buy a paper when I'm stopped at a redlight. At least, they are doing something positive. If it helps to get some off of the streets. That is a good thing.

By: house_of_pain on 6/30/11 at 4:46

The problem I have is this: staff from the Contributor are using vans to transport the homeless out to the suburbs, dropping them off near residential areas. Not cool.

By: Captain Nemo on 6/30/11 at 5:50

I look at the homeless selling papers, like I do any other business transaction; to buy or not to buy. There were laws made to keep the homeless from standing on street corners looking for hand outs. The Contributor now gives the homeless a chance to make some sort of living.

Now as far as them having a right to be in Brentwood or not I don’t know. They are not as an obstruction as are some of the other non-profits groups I have seen at intersection, with children walking in between cars looking for donations.

By: treehugger7 on 6/30/11 at 6:09

I love the paper; I never obstruct traffic to buy one. This is a wonderful way for people to learn how to make a living. It also is a reminder that "there but for the grace of God go I". Brentwood needs to grow up. It might be a fancy suburb, but that doesn't trump the Bill of Rights! Grow up and get used to it!

By: starkat on 6/30/11 at 6:24

Wow.!! ...Brentwood...nothing more tacky and low rent ...then a hillbilly with money....as some of the posts here reflect!!

GO CONTRIBUTOR...sue the pants off of them...and their city's pathetic value system....seems there are some that make a mockery of what this country is all about....their arrogance and ill will are stifling....and soooo UNpatriotic in these difficult times....!!

By: ncpreader on 6/30/11 at 6:37

I saw this one coming a year ago. These poor people who are down on their luck are trying to make a buck by selling a nearly worthless paper...Good for them for trying to look like they are not just panhandling. But,I don't want newspaper panhandlers bussed into my neighborhood ! I buy their paper every once in while out of guilt, but........

By: dargent7 on 6/30/11 at 7:05

What appears like a good thing on the outside is in my opinion very dangerous.
The sellers dart in and out of traffic, stopping cars with green lights.
Someone's car will eventually get rear ended, and the seller struck, or killed.

By: budlight on 6/30/11 at 7:06

Our mission at The Contributor is to highlight issues faced by those in the homeless and poverty populations. The city of Brentwood is not only limiting our message but also our efforts to create a sense of community between our vendors and our customers,” said Tasha French, executive director of The Contributor.

Tasha, you might as well be saying that "Our mission is to break laws wherever and whenever we can". Did you even check out the laws and/or city ordinances BEFORE you sent your sales reps into Brentwood? No you didn't.

Do you send your sales reps into high rise office buildings in Nashville? NO you don't. Why? Because there are NO SOLICITING signs on the front door of every high rise office buildings (and others) in Nashville. And if you come in there and "solicite" someone to buy a paper, you'll get booted out the door and maybe even arrested.

So, have some respect for the laws. Either change the laws the proper way or obey the laws.

I'm glad that some cities have allowed them to come in and sell. And I, too, have seen near misses of accidents when people slam on breaks to buy a paper. But the question in Brentwood is this: What are their current laws? Obey them.

By: conservarage on 6/30/11 at 7:19

if they walk into traffic (jaywalking) or obstruct traffic, then they are breaking the law. roads are for vehicles. just because they're 'homeless', doesn't make it less of a danger to motorists, and the contributor people themselves.

i wonder if the newspaper will agree to pay the medical expenses of the first seller to get run over?

By: budlight on 6/30/11 at 7:22

Conserverage: Or the first driver to be harmed due to the distraction?

I have a question: I heard someone say that there is an application to fill out for the job which asks: Are you now homeless? Or have you ever been homeless? Are some of the people who sell these papers actually NOT currently homeless? Just curious if anyone has heard this? Or knows.

By: budlight on 6/30/11 at 7:22

s/h/b: conservarage (sorry for the typo)

By: conservarage on 6/30/11 at 7:31

a story i heard on NPR, of all places, featured a fellow who is no longer homeless, who still sells - so there is at least one. that brings up an interesting dilemma for both sellers and buyers.

By: 4gold on 6/30/11 at 7:35

Dont know what the answer is but I do find them annoying. They are on every corner in Fort Lauderdale when I vacation. Sad to see them expand to Nashville also.

By: BenDover on 6/30/11 at 7:36

The judge has ruled. They should be popping ever one of these guys they see with the $200 fine. As of last week they were still out there... still disrupting traffic. This is not a jobs thing... it's in your face homeless activism designed to stir up trouble.

By: BenDover on 6/30/11 at 7:40

How much do they have to pay for the papers? 117,000 / 400 is $292.50 on average a month for each before they have to pay for the papers. Not much for the homeless people but a sweet draw for the paper if they are making 50 cents a copy.

By: macjedi on 6/30/11 at 8:09

Brentwood is just trying to hide behind the White Flight that established their city, and use whatever means they can to ignore the concept that there are those who are less fortunate (or in Brentwood's case extravagant) than they are.

By: budlight on 6/30/11 at 8:09

Question: How many of you "buyers" would buy this paper if you knew the person selling it was not CURRENTLY homeless? Look at 8:31 a.m. post; NPR? Guess that story must be true.

Yes Ben, I sometimes wonder where the money is going besides to the homeless person selling it. I have purchased the paper and what I read was so-so. Nevertheless, it does provide an income for some. What do they do with the money? Hope they pay rent on a small place and buy food. Hope!

By: budlight on 6/30/11 at 8:13

macjedi on 6/30/11 at 9:09
Brentwood is just trying to hide behind the White Flight that established their city, and use whatever means they can to ignore the concept that there are those who are less fortunate (or in Brentwood's case extravagant) than they are.

White Flight? I'm sure you are offending the rich black and other nationality people in Brentwood. However, one thing is for sure: You are envious of the people who have worked hard and "made it". All those who are wealthy are not extravagant as you assume. Many who accumulated wealth got there by driving beaters, living modestly, eating frugally, and working long hard hours and SAVING money. Have you ever heard of that? I applaud those who have made it. It means there is still hope.

Some poor people are spendthrifts and do not manage their money well. Do you know any of those types? I do!

By: BenDover on 6/30/11 at 8:29

Are you the captain of this ridiculous homeless flotilla, macjedi?

By: JeffF on 6/30/11 at 8:37

I have recently taken a job in Brentwood and drive a paid-for beater and I applaud Brentwood for removing this hazard from this roadway. They are being more than fair, making sure no one solicits in traffic. Since they decided to sell newspapers this has become commercial speech which does not carry the same constitutional rights as independent speech. The other more legitimate newspapers know this and do not sell in Brentwood like these folks do.

I recommend that one of the local papers take a picture of the homeless standing amongst the traffic and construction at rush hour and let the people decide just how safe it is for everyone. Many time 4 or 5 people are walking a concrete tightrope down the thin median on OHB trying to solicit "sales". It is entirely an unsafe situation.

By: BenDover on 6/30/11 at 8:46

I'm just wondering why the city re-poured the entrance to 65 south so that you can't slip into the turn lane at the red-light anymore. That just further backs up the traffic coming across the bridge. It's like we are being bashed from both sides where the city makes stupid control nut traffic decisions blocking what was very safe access to the turn lane... and then we've got these refugees from the streets of Nashville blocking traffic and shaking us down for beer money on the guise of selling that tripe they call a news paper.

By: girliegirl on 6/30/11 at 9:01

@Jeff...out in Hermitage, they will step out in front of my SUV on occasion, to the point that I must slam on the brakes. This act is clearly aggressive and dangerous to drivers, occupants of my car, other drivers, and to the individual solicitor. And should they cause the wreck, they would most surely sue me, the victim/driver....for we are truly a litigious society these days.

By: yucchhii on 6/30/11 at 9:13

yucchhii To DAVID_S: YOU SIR, ARE A HUGE IDIOT! The contributer articles are written by the homeless. Many who have never had the chance to learn to read or write as well as you! I know one of those homeless people who seel that paper and who goes to one of the universities to use the library. He is not a student of the university but makes use of the facility to LEARN! He has come to me many times to learn how to spell or what certain things mean and other things. He has demonstrated the urge to learn to me. How can I disrespect that? If you have a problem with the way the paper is written, then why don't you take the time to teach them how to write a paper? Do YOU know how to do that? If not, I suggest you keep your dark comments to yourself! Many of these homeless are actually TRYING to do something right!

By: girliegirl on 6/30/11 at 9:19

yucchhii....while most are trying, I agree, the one in Hermitage was NOT...and all it takes is one accident to muck up for the rest of them. (just sayin')

By: yucchhii on 6/30/11 at 9:23

yucchhii To House_of_Pain...So, what is NOT cool about dropping homeless people near residential areas? Is it because they're "HOMELESS"? If not, then what is it?

By: yucchhii on 6/30/11 at 9:31

yucchhii Girliegirl: I totally understand your point. Forgive me that I forgot to mention in my respsons to David_S that certain areas should be kept free of obstruction because of the potential for accidents. I do agree with you there. It angers me that the other parts of his response is so PREJUDICE of the homeless. There are too many people that think THEY will NEVER be homeless, when the truth is, when they end up at the Nashville rescue mission, they need to get rid of that "Never will be homeless" attitude. I can promise that the people there will make mince meat out of him that way. I have spoken to people who USED to have that attitude before and found themselves in that predicament. THEIR attitudes changed REAL QUICK! So to those who still think in that way....HEADS UP!!! POLITICIANS ARE OUT TO GET YOU!!!

By: yucchhii on 6/30/11 at 9:33

yucchhii Captain Nemo: Thank you!!!

By: BenDover on 6/30/11 at 9:35

So you're the Captain of this ridiculous flotilla, yucchhii... when one of your homeless buddies dumps his stack of papers and drags a 14yo behind the Super Target and rapes her we're going to hold you responsible.

One of your guys over at Nippers corner moved on from his paper deal to shaking down customers in the parking lot of Public's to wandering through the lot looking into each of the cars last week when my wife was shopping. When something happens the Contributor is culpable and a jury of my peers will agree.

And btw… does your daddy know you are using his SUV this way? Does he know what that $40K a year at Vandy is getting him?

By: house_of_pain on 6/30/11 at 9:40

Seriously, yucchhii, you can't see a potential problem with importing homeless people(some of which are homeless due to issues with mental instability) into neighborhoods where children live & play?

By: girliegirl on 6/30/11 at 9:51

OOOoooh, House has a point.

By: girliegirl on 6/30/11 at 9:53

Ever been to"Room in the Inn" downtown? That's where House is getting major points on this one. Sorry.

By: richgoose on 6/30/11 at 10:00

Brentwood is a community of productive people. They are to be lauded for keeping ordances that discourages the underclass from getting a toehold.

By: BenDover on 6/30/11 at 10:02

That is a huge point. You can't screen them because if you do you are responsible for the quality of that screening. And if you are not screening them then you could be transporting child molesters to school zones. Does daddy know your use of his SUV is going to drag him into this lawsuit?

By: slzy on 6/30/11 at 10:02

i wish the contributor could get the obits and foreclosure notices. that would be the end of the tennessean.

By: jvh2b on 6/30/11 at 2:29

One time at Nolensville Pk and Hardin, I saw one of these guys go behind the traffic box, pull out his cell and take a call.

That solidified the fact I will never buy one of these papers.

The couple on OHB and 65 on the thin median aren't even selling those...they sit there w/ a bs sign about their car broke down. Someone needs to tell them that gig only works for about 2 days...not every day for the past 3 weeks.

By: Captain Nemo on 6/30/11 at 3:40

By: BenDover on 6/30/11 at 10:35
So you're the Captain of this ridiculous flotilla, yucchhii... when one of your homeless buddies dumps his stack of papers and drags a 14yo behind the Super Target and rapes her we're going to hold you responsible.

OMG BEN!!! You keep telling us great you at helping people down in there luck. How many times have posted how you let a family leave in your rental property for free or little money. Now you’re screaming that one of these corner vendors will snatch a 14 year old. What the hell is a 14 year old doing at that intersection anyway?

By: Captain Nemo on 6/30/11 at 3:50

By: jvh2b on 6/30/11 at 3:29
One time at Nolensville Pk and Hardin, I saw one of these guys go behind the traffic box, pull out his cell and take a call.

That solidified the fact I will never buy one of these papers.

jvh2b why don’t you just say you want buy a paper from them and not come up with an impractical excuse.

By: global_citizen on 7/1/11 at 6:33

No one is ordering the Contributor to stop the presses. No one is telling them what they can and can't publish. So to call this a first amendment issue is to do injury to the first amendment.

Having the right to publish and to speak freely is not the same as having the right to sell. I have the right to sing my heart out. I don't have the right to force a record label to give me a contract.

Pornography is protected as free speech. Does that mean we should be allowed to hand it out at roadway intersections?

Performance art is protected as free speech. Does that mean I have the right to carry on a performance at the side of the street which might cause drivers to be distracted and injure other people, or slow down to watch and obstruct the flow of traffic?

Obviously, no.

By: macjedi on 7/1/11 at 7:46

I'm always so amused at the moronic black and white way many people argue issues.

I have NOTHING to do with this paper nor do I buy from the people, and I do see a hazard there.

BUT, it does not wash Brentwood of trying to use backhanded ways to keep an uppity motif instead of just being honest about it. I'm not envious of a town I drive in each day. I know it has many people of many colors and many roots who also partake of its charms. I also know the place was borne of White Flight, and is yet another insulated place where spoiled kids get raised to be spoiled adults who honestly think that everyone in the USA is born with a right to be rich and "be the man"... and that disgusts me. If you worked hard for it, awesome. Congrats. Now stop forgetting the rest of society who helps keep you there.

By: gdiafante on 7/1/11 at 7:49

I've never personally seen any of these homeless people dart out into traffic or do anything but just stand there or walk over to a car if asked to. What I have seen are careless drivers who hit the brakes or cut someone off in order to buy a paper.

I can understand and agree with House's assessment.

By: BenDover on 7/1/11 at 8:45

Nemo, my very gracious gesture letting a homeless family live in my rental house for what was supposed to be 6 months but turned into 18 months while they got back on their feet was rewarded by having my house trashed. It took me three days to sort what I thought they'd want to keep from obvious garbage, then box it up and deliver it to their new place that I demanded they get more than 6 months after He got a job. I also peeled off $300 cash to have their utilities turned on in the new place because even though I told them repeatedly that June 15th was the absolute final date; they had put $0 dollars away for the move.

In all of that though my generosity did not screw up traffic... and the young girls avoided getting raped at that crack hotel in Memphis we pulled them out of so I'll call it a win.

Letting them sell homeless advocacy propaganda in the streets for beer money in no way compares what I did to put this family back on track.

By: Lurkinglurker on 7/1/11 at 10:39

You must be quite amused at your own comment trying to play the race card with your white flight theory. I was raised in Brentwood in the 80s-90s and my parents along with many of my friends' parents (black, white, Indian, etc.) moved there because of the great public school system. My parents both currently work two jobs and were never CEOs or doctors or lawyers. I was raised to do well in school, respect other people and work for what I have. (if you think a early 2000 model sedan is flashy then I have finally made it!)
Yes It's easy to target the flashy rich people and spoiled kids, but they are not the majority. I'm interested to hear what stereotypes you have for all the people of Antioch, north Nashville, east Nashville and even Bellevue.
Your comment about "the rest of society" that keeps them there is ignorant at best. Stop watching V is for vendetta and realIze most people actually work hard for what they have and that the majority of Brentwood residents are not political fat cats and CEOs looking to screw the little guy.
If the people of Brentwood don't want "contributors" on every street corner then that is their right as a community to come together and say so. You don't have to live there or pay their taxes, but to go on some prejudice class-war rant over newspaper sales is borderline psychopathic.

By: David_S on 7/1/11 at 10:58


A. I can speak my "dark comments" (AKA critiques) of the paper as freely as I want to, especially in the comments section of an internet article.

B. It is you, in fact, who are prejudiced. My comment was based on trying to read 2 different issues of the contributor, which I found incredibly poorly written, and on subjects most people have little interest in. I am not prejudiced against the homeless, though. I do applaud the people who sell the paper, and the general intent of the paper to give a job to homeless people. However, the founders of the contributor apparently didn't have a shred of economic sense. There is no great need (in an economic sense) for a paper about (and for the most part, giving excuses for) being homeless. I would be happy to write for the contributor. I'm sure some of the thousands of college students, professors, aspiring songwriters, etc. in Nashville would also love to write for the contributor for free. But they did not make a paper for the general public. They made a paper that specifically focuses on homelessness. And I'm sorry, but there simply is not a market for that.

So next time, before you start bashing someone's comments as prejudiced, you should try actually reading and considering the comment they are making, not the comment to which you wish you could respond.

By: macjedi on 7/1/11 at 3:22

Then, Lurk, like I said, the people of Brentwood should have a spine and just say so instead of this backhanded assault on the press. Until that can happen, you all get to be lumped into my pot. Tough shit.

By: tomba1 on 7/2/11 at 11:39

You only get 1 point for hitting 'em in the street; wait and hit 'em on the sidewalk and get 3 points! Score enough and they'll go away.

By: pswindle on 7/3/11 at 11:12

It is so easy to kick someone when they are down. If this paper helps one person climb out of the streets, then it's worth it.