Mpls city council considers repeal of lurking, spitting laws

Blacks majority of accused; Whites majority of accusers

Community members and Neighborhood Organizing for Change members gave testimony to repeal ban on spitting and lurking.
Community members and Neighborhood Organizing for Change members gave testimony to repeal ban on spitting and lurking.

The Minneapolis City Council later this week could vote to repeal two longtime city “low-level” ordinances that have not been fairly enforced. Several local groups have called for repeals of the public spitting and lurking laws. The former, a misdemeanor carrying a jail sentence for someone found guilty, has been a city ordinance since 1898. Lurking is when a person or persons “lurk, lie or wait…with intent to commit any crime.”

Critics argue that the two laws in recent years have been enforced with racial bias. The Minneapolis Police Department data shows that 60 percent of those persons who are reported to police as lurking from 2009-2014 are Black, while nearly 70 percent of those who call police on persons suspected as lurking are White.

Furthermore, during the same time span, 84 percent of city loitering arrests were Black, and 76 percent of those loitering suspects also were Black.

As a result, after public testimony from community members last month, the Minneapolis Public Safety, Civil Rights & Emergency Management Committee early in May recommended that the two ordinances be repealed by the full council at the June 5 meeting.

It is an “important step” toward reducing racial profiling in Minneapolis, says a Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) press release.

NOC Civic Engagement Director Wintana Melekin said last week in an MSR interview that most people are probably unaware of the two ordinances unless they were, at one time or another, stopped by police and charged with one. Melekin says that although personally she has not been stopped by police for spitting or lurking, “I have had family members [and] friends” who have. But “I think that the more people are more informed about it” the better.

“I’ve been very vocal for my two years at NOC about stories of people being harassed…in North Minneapolis,” she continued. “Each year I have over a dozen stories of police officers harassing” community residents.

The low number of arrests is a good indication, plus the fact that the two laws are both outdated and seem unequally enforced and need to be abolished, continued Melekin. She said that the two ordinances “are an injustice right in our face.” She also is encouraged by community folk telling their stories directly to elected officials.

“I think the constituents have spoken. I do feel confident that [the city council] will make that decision.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.