The Seattle City Council has unanimously voted to repeal two separate loitering ordinances
SEATTLE, WA — The Seattle City Council has unanimously voted to repeal two separate loitering ordinances over concerns that both were rooted in racism and had disproportionately negative effects on minority and marginalized communities.
The first ordinance repealed Monday was Seattle’s drug traffic loitering law, which repeals supporters said was a racist and misguided relic of the 90s “War on Drugs.” Under the ordinance, officers could arrest a person on suspicion of soliciting drugs in public, without evidence or drugs present.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who sponsored the repeal, characterized the ordinance as an excuse to racially profile community members who had done nothing wrong.
“Fax machines are outdated, these laws were never appropriate,” said Lewis. “They were wrong when they were enacted, they are wrong now.”
The second ordinance, which allowed officers to arrest suspected sex workers for loitering, was also unanimously repealed. Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who introduced the repeal of the second ordinance, credited the removal of these ordinances as part of the city’s effort to react and respond to the national conversation about police and structural racism in America.
“The brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which followed countless other wrongful acts and centuries of racism, have refocused our nation’s attention on the need to prevent disproportionate impacts of our law enforcement system on Black and Indigenous and other people of color,” said Pedersen. “Repealing problematic laws on our books such as these loitering laws, that’s a small but important step that this city council can take.
Even before the repeal, both ordinances had been largely unenforced. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said he had instructed his office to ignore both the drug and prostitution loitering ordinances after a 2018 Reentry Workgroup found they both had racist origins and had been disproportionately enforced against minorities.
“My office hasn’t charged either of these offenses since that time two years ago, with the exception of a single errant filing this year which we’re working to withdraw,” said Holmes. “Kudos to Councilmembers Lewis, Morales, and Pedersen for introducing these ordinances to permanently remove these laws from Seattle’s books. I hope that other jurisdictions will examine their own criminal loitering laws.”
As councilmembers introduced the repeals Monday they thanked community advocacy groups for their advice and support making this happen. Many community groups have been fighting for similar repeals for several years, including the Sex Workers Outreach Project, who lauded the news online.