Strong support shown for proposed repeal of lurking, spitting ordinances

Several people spoke in favor of a proposal to repeal the city’s ordinances against spitting and lurking at a public hearing Wednesday at City Hall — crimes people of color are disproportionately arrested for in Minneapolis.

Between 2011 and 2014, more than two-thirds of people arrested or ticketed for lurking were people of color, according to a report prepared by Council Members Blong Yang and Cam Gordon, authors of the proposal to repeal the ordinances. In 2014, police issued 65 lurking citations.

About 60 percent of the city’s residents are white and 40 percent people of color.

The city’s lurking ordinance says “no person, in any public or private place, shall lurk, lie in wait or be concealed with intent to commit any crime or unlawful act.”

As for spitting, police issued 29 tickets for spitting from 2011 to 2014. Of those who received tickets, 13 were black, one white and race was not disclosed for the rest of the tickets.

The city’s spitting ordinance, adopted in 1898, was passed with the intention of preventing the spread of Tuberculosis (TB) when chewing tobacco was common throughout the city.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, newly elected president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, and people affiliated with the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, among many others, expressed support for the repeal of the ordinances, arguing they empower racist policing.

“This is a no brainer,” Levy-Pounds said of the proposal to repeal the low-level offenses. “This is the least the City Council can do to show you are serious about equity.”

Teresa Nelson, legal director of the ACLU-MN, said the organization believes the lurking ordinance is unconstitutionally vague.

“The ACLU American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota supports the repeal of Minneapolis Ordinances 385.80 (Lurking) and 213.30 (Spitting; depositing tobacco) because we believe that these ordinances have served to increase racial disparities in policing in Minneapolis,” Nelson said in a statement. “…It is time for this ordinance to be repealed and for the police to focus their attention on actual crimes and attempted crimes rather than on people who merely look suspicious or undesirable.  We respectfully request that you repeal the Lurking and the Spitting ordinance.”

Mike Maney of Ryan Cos., chair of the Minneapolis Downtown Council board’s SafeZone Advisory Committee, however, spoke against the repeal on behalf of the board. He said law enforcement needs all the tools they have to keep downtown a safe place.

Joseph Finley, chair of the Citizens for Loring Park Community’s livability committee, also spoke against removing the ordinances.

“I am afraid that if you begin repealing these, you will be stepping on to a slippery slope,” he said, adding that the neighborhood group feels other ordinances against low-level livability crimes could be removed from the books.  

“I think spitting is a terrible disgrace to our city,” Finley said.

The Council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee will continue discussion on the proposed repeal of spitting and lurking ordinances May 20.