Anti-Loitering Bill Criminalizes DC Communities

A bill criminalizing gatherings of more than two people in DC is drawing outrage and opposition from community and labor activists, as well as civil rights advocates. “This is a clear and blatant violation of the Constitutionally-guaranteed right of the American people to assemble,” said Metro Council President Jos Williams. “That it’s been introduced in the nation’s capitol is a travesty of justice.” The Hot-Spot No-Loitering bill, recently introduced by Councilmember Jim Graham, would empower the DC police to declare a “hotspot zone” at any time, making it a crime to gather with two or more people on public property and giving the police the power to arrest people in the targeted zone with $300 fine and/or 180 days in jail. rnrnThis law would give the police the power to arrest day laborers waiting for work on a street corner, residents passing the time by socializing, activists flyering outside the metro or workers protesting bad employers. Rather than more policing and incarceration, City Council would serve the city better by focusing resources on creating good jobs and job training programs for DC residents. rnrn*Story origionally printed in Union Cities.*rnrnWhat you can do:rnrn1. Write your city councilmember and the at-large council members (see below for a draft letter. So far Councilmembers Graham, Catania, Evans, Bowser, Alexander and Kwame Brown has co-sponsored this legislation. Then, make a follow-up call.rnrn2. Testify at the hearing on March 18th at 10am. To testify send an email to htseu@dccouncil.us or call (202) 724-7808 by 5pm on March 16th with your Name, Address, Phone Number, and Organization and Title, if you have one. Everyone who testifies will have 3-5 minutes to speak. You may also submit written testimony, which can be longer, and you can do without being at the hearing.rnrn3. Talk to people about this bill, why it’s a problem, and talk about other solutions to create safety and justice in our communities.rnrnSample Letter:rnrnDear Councilmember ___________,rnrnI am writing to you because I’m very concerned about the Hot-Spot No-Loitering Zone Bill (B18-0152) that Jim Graham introduced recently. The bill is intended to create no-loitering zones in which the police will have the power and discretion to move people off the streets, just for being out in groups of two or more. I think this is a very bad plan to address the safety of our communities. This bill not only has the strong potential to be unconstitutional and used for racial profiling, but it also just plain won’t work to make us safer. I would like to see you and the council put more attention and money towards alternatives to increased policing and incarceration; for example, funding quality recreation centers, schools, and jobs, as well as taking a justice reinvestment approach to neighborhood safety, which would involve collaborating with neighborhoods to strengthen the community from the roots up.rnrnA few reasons why you should vote NO on the No-Loitering Zone Bill:rnrnThis approach hasn’t proved effective elsewhere. Though most anti-loitering ordinances have been struck down as unconstitutional, the cities whose ordinances have survived offer no proof that they are effective in lowering crime rates. Instead of addressing or abating crime, anti-loitering ordinances often result in wholesale street sweeps of folks doing nothing more ominous than standing on public property.rnrnThis bill gives the police too much power and discretion. In order to arrest or disperse people under this bill the police do not have to suspect that a crime is imminent, probable, or even possible. If the police simply do not like the look of the individuals having no apparent purpose for being there, nothing more is needed.rnrnAnti-loitering laws have a long, ugly history of being used against particular groups in order to control them. In this country, anti-loitering laws have their roots in the post-slavery south when they were used to sweep up freed African-Americans. In the years after Chicago first introduced its anti-loitering ordinance, the vast majority of those arrested were black and latino. Closer to home, Herndon, VA Town Council recently considered an anti-loitering bill that would be employed specifically against immigrant day laborers. Considering this discriminatory history and enforcement, combined with the sobering fact that African-Americans in DC are currently locked up at 19 times the rate of whites, the only guarantee of this law is that hundreds of people of color will be arrested for no good reason.rnrnThis bill will cause more people to be senselessly caught up in the judicial system. Any amount of jail time, especially for the ‘crime’ of being on public property, is extremely disruptive to people’s support networks – meaning they could lose jobs, homes, and contact with human support services. Such disruption can make it harder to survive. Once someone is in the judicial system they often stay there, due to inability to pay fines, trouble finding jobs because of time lost or having a record. rnrn There are viable alternatives to addressing community concerns about violence. The city must invest more money and energy into programs that support community responses to violence and neighborhood-based initiatives to stop violence. This includes, but isn’t limited to, supporting recreation centers, summer job programs, quality schools, public universities, housing options, drug treatment programs, and other rehabilitation programs. Time and time again, research has proven that these programs are effective in lowering crime rates. Cutting funding for human services, early childhood development, and affordable housing – all of which the council is doing this year – is part of what leads to violence in our communities. We need more programs, not more police and incarceration.rnrnCouncilmember, now is your opportunity to actually address the root causes of crime. I urge you to rethink funding strategies to support struggling communities, not punish them. There are justice reinvestment strategies that work with neighborhoods to develop their strengths and to meet their basic needs- putting money back into the community instead of funneling it out into the police and court systems.rnrnInstead of police we could be sending counselors, social workers, mentors, and job trainers into these neighborhoods and funding programs that would provide much needed services to address crime rates.rnrnThank you for your attention to my concerns about this bill. I hope that when it comes before the city council you will VOTE NO, and take seriously these suggestions to look at alternatives.rnrnSincerely,rnrn(your name here)rnrnCouncil contacts:rnVincent C. Gray – Council Chairman (undecided)rnvgray@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8032 rnFax: (202) 724-8085rnrnDavid A. Catania – Councilmember (At-Large) (co-sponsor)rndcatania@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-7772 rnFax: (202) 724-8087rnrnPhil Mendelson- Councilmember (At-Large) (undecided)rnpmendelson@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8064 rnFax: (202) 724-8099rnrnKwame R. Brown – Councilmember (At-Large) (co-sponsor)rnkbrown@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8174 rnFax: (202) 724-8156rnrnMichael A. Brown – Councilmember (At-Large) (undecided)rnmbrown@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8105rnFax: (202) 724-8071rnrnJim Graham – Councilmember (Ward 1) (Introduced bill)rnjgraham@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8181 rnFax: (202) 724-8109rnrnJack Evans – Councilmember (Ward 2) (co-sponsor)rnjackevans@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8058 rnFax: (202) 727-8023rnrnMary M. Cheh – Councilmember (Ward 3) (undecided)rnmcheh@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8062 rnFax: (202) 724-8118rnrnMuriel Bowser – Councilmember – (Ward 4) (co-sponsor)rnmbowser@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8052 rnFax: (202) 741-0908rnrnHarry Thomas, Jr. – Councilmember (Ward 5) (undecided)rnhthomas@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8028 rnFax: (202) 724-8076rnrnTommy Wells – Councilmember (Ward 6) (undecided)rntwells@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8072 rnFax: (202) 724-8054rnrnCouncilmember Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7) (co-sponsor)rnyalexander@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8068 rnFax: (202) 741-0911rnrnMarion Barry – Councilmember (Ward 8) (Undecided)rnmbarry@dccouncil.us rnTel: (202) 724-8045 rnFax: (202) 724-8055rnrnStory origionally printed in Union Cities.rnrnrn

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