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Councilmember Lewis, City Attorney Holmes Introduce Legislation to Repeal Outdated Drug Traffic Loitering Law

Bill repeals ‘war on drugs’ policy disproportionately impacting communities of color

SEATTLE – Seattle City Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis (District 7, Magnolia to Pioneer Square) and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes introduced legislation today to repeal a relic from the failed “War on Drugs,” Seattle’s Drug Traffic Loitering law.

The Drug Traffic Loitering law was adopted in the 1990s in response to the War on Drugs and an incarceration-centric handling of drug use and trafficking. An arrest for Drug Traffic Loitering would occur when a suspect was in a public place and was thought to be soliciting another person to violate felony drug laws, but when apprehended, did not have drugs in their possession. Without evidence of the underlying offense, the police would instead arrest a person for loitering.

Lewis, the prime sponsor of the legislation, is a former assistant city prosecutor who understands first-hand the inequities in our legal system.  “This law has a racist history and historically criminalized ‘hanging out’ simply because someone looked like they were trafficking drugs, allowing racial profiling and the criminalization of communities of color. We’re in a different time where lawmakers are no longer participating in ‘war and drugs’ policies, and instead looking at drug addiction through a public health lens. Though the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t charge under this ordinance, it’s time we remove this law from the books for good,” Lewis said. 

“Furthermore, Lewis is introducing a separate ordinance along with councilmembers Tammy J. Morales (District 2, South Seattle and Chinatown/Int’l District) and Alex Pedersen (District 4, Northeast Seattle) to repeal the city’s prostitution loitering ordinance (Seattle Municipal Code Section 12A.10.010).”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “I have long questioned the use of loitering crimes as a law enforcement tool, and am grateful that the 2018 Reentry Workgroup helped shine a light on their racist origins. As they deliberated, I simultaneously had an attorney closely review of all pending and incoming Drug Traffic Loitering and Prostitution Loitering cases. 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. 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.”

In 2018, the Seattle City Council received a report from the Seattle Reentry Workgroup, which recommended the City Council repeal Drug Traffic Loitering from the City’s criminal code (Page 51) stating, “much has been documented regarding the disastrous racialized impacts of these policies on Black and Indigenous communities and the growth of mass incarceration.” 

The workgroup also requested the Council remove the Prostitution Loitering Ordinance (Page 52). Councilmember Lewis and Pedersen recognize the ordinance, which also has not been used to file charges for years, historically caused unnecessary involvement and interface between police and black and brown individuals. 

Pedersen said, “I believe it is vital to support the recommendation of the Seattle Reentry Workgroup to repeal the Prostitution Loitering law so we eliminate a source of disproportionate harm or jeopardy to people of color from our policing and carceral system. After ongoing engagement with community stakeholders, co-sponsoring the repeal of this problematic law is just another initial step I’m taking with my colleagues to help right what has been wrong for far too long.”

Morales said, “This is an outdated, and frankly racist policy in our City’s municipal code. By repealing this part of the code we are assured that drug offenders and sex workers will be treated humanely and not criminalized.”

Both pieces of legislation are expected for a vote before the Full City Council on Monday, June 22 2020. 

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