KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) - When Kentwood police arrested panhandler James Speet for holding up a "hungry" sign at a busy intersection, they said he was causing a traffic hazard.
But not far away, on a busy stretch of 28th Street SE in Kentwood, Captain America was beat-boxing and doing back flips on Friday. Passing motorists honked, and some slowed down to take camera-phone photographs.
==Photos: Advertising vs Panhandling ==
"No cop has ever stopped me and said, 'No, stop doing this,'" said D.J. Barwin, who often dresses up as Captain America for a nearby costume shop. "They just kind of go by and ignore it. They make it seem like they didn't just see some guy in a costume doing flips off an electrical box."
They also don't bother Tina, who was wearing a sandwich board sign to advertise a temporary employment agency, or the woman wearing a "Cash for Gold" shirt and dancing and waving at traffic on the other side of 28th Street.
Speet, who is fighting the panhandling charge, says it raises a question about selective enforcement.
"They're only enforcing their city ordinance against certain people," Speet told 24 Hour News 8. "They're
discriminating, is basically what they're doing. If you're poor, Kentwood will put you in jail for violating their city ordinance, but if you're a business, then they won't."
Kentwood police arrested Speet at 29th Street and Broadmoor Avenue SE last month, the day after his federal lawsuit overturned the state's anti-begging law.
They say he was standing in the median.
"I was devastated," Speet said.
Speet was one of two Grand Rapids panhandlers named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU. A federal judge said the ban violated their First and 14th Amendment rights .
Since then, Grand Rapids police have said they will stop making arrests for begging.
But Kentwood officials say they arrested Speet under a city ordinance, which prohibits begging only under
certain conditions -- such as panhandling from motorists. They say he was posing a traffic hazard.
Kentwood Mayor Richard Clanton denied the city is using selective enforcement.
"Begging is different than advertising," he said. "I don't see that as the same thing, at least not in my eyes. If it's something that endangers the health, safety and welfare, we're going to look at it."
In an email, he wrote: "The provision of the City ordinance at issue is expressly limited (unlike the state statute mentioned earlier) to situations in which the dangers of distracted driving are present and the risk
to the individual engaging in such conduct, and the public generally, is real and immediate."
Then, there's Captain America, on 28th Street SE, also in Kentwood. He says he works the corner several days a week, trying to draw passing motorists to a nearby costume shop.
"I'm not paid so much to distract them from the road, that's my personal goal, no just kidding," he said. "But my goal is to get their eye to get on me."
"A few cops go by and they try to stay mean looking, but they end up smirking every once in a while."
As for Speet, he's often seen begging now on 28th Street SE in Cascade Township. Without the money, he said, he'd spend most nights in a tent.
"I don't drink or do drugs," he said. "I try to make just enough to get what I need, maybe a room if I make enough, little bit of food and that's it."
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