John Davis was taking an exit to the city of Cleveland off I-90 when he saw a panhandler in a wheelchair by the side of the road. He tried to give the man two one-dollar bills but they fluttered to the ground. An eagle-eyed police officer saw this and immediately cited Davis for littering, an offence that carried with it a $344 fine.
Needlessly to say, this story garnered considerable national attention and the universal reaction seemed to be “What the hell?” Surely Cleveland police have better things to do than punishing someone for an act of charity, even if it may technically have violated some city ordinance?
Davis contested the ticket and Cleveland prosecutors dropped the charges during the court hearing. But they did not say they were doing so because it made them look foolish and petty. Instead they made the interesting argument that the police officer cited Davis for the wrong reason because money is not considered litter. They said he should have been cited “under a law that prohibits soliciting or giving donations on the roadway”, something that I did not know was against the law either.
I wonder what the city of Cleveland would do if a Russian tycoon repeated his St. Petersburg stunt of throwing paper planes made out of 5,000 ruble notes (approximately $148) out of his office window, causing pandemonium below as people fought with each other for the money. He likely would not be prosecuted because rich people’s actions tend to be given much greater latitude.
His action reminded me of the ending scene from the 1969 film The Magic Christian starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr where Sellers, portrays an eccentric rich person who tests the power of money to get his way including how much indignity people are willing to suffer, even wading through excrement, in order to get ‘free money’. (Note: Due to copyright issues, the soundtrack goes silent for a couple of minutes in the middle.)