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City Council Repeals Problematic Law to Reduce Disproportionate Impact on Communities of Color

Follows Recommendation from Reentry Workgroup to Repeal Prostitution Loitering Ordinance

City Council unanimously repealed from the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) the problematic ordinance regarding “prostitution loitering,” as requested by Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4), Councilmember Tammy J. Morales (District 2), and Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis (District 7).  The tragic killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd refocused the nation’s attention on the need to prevent disproportionate impacts of policing on communities of color.

“I’ve committed to preventing disproportionate impacts on communities of color by police interactions and this is just one fix to our city laws,” said Councilmember Pedersen. “I believe it is vital to support the recommendation of the Seattle Reentry Work Group to repeal the Prostitution Loitering law, so we can eliminate a source of disproportionate harm to people of color from our policing and carceral system. After engagement with community stakeholders, cosponsoring 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 too long.”

The Seattle Reentry Workgroup Final Report in 2018 recommended the repeal of this ordinance (Section 12A.10.010 of the SMC) which the adoption of Council Bill 119808 will achieve with the Mayor’s expected signature. The report found that the ordinance can target individuals in the commercial sex industry, a group already at high risk for trafficking, abuse, and other exploitation. Bringing those individuals into the criminal legal system only exacerbates underlying unmet needs and exposes them to further harm caused by incarceration. Furthermore, the report concluded, in other cities with similar ordinances, data has shown that such loitering laws disproportionately impact people of color.

A 2019 report filed in the Western District Court of Washington found that Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) are frisked at a rate 15% higher than are White people and firearms were pointed at BIPOC individuals about 30% more often than at similarly situated white people. The removal of the statute eliminates one of those points of potentially negative interaction.

“The prostitution loitering ordinance has a discriminatory legacy that impacted primarily people of color, women and our LGBTQ community. I’ve received hundreds of emails from constituents almost uniformly in favor of repealing these ordinances. This issue has resonated with many, because they have felt and seen the harmful impact this ordinance has had on our community. Today we’re taking a step in the right direction, making sure our laws reflect our values and don’t create additional burdens on our black and brown community members,” said Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis, a cosponsor of the legislation (District 7, Pioneer Square to Magnolia).

The City Attorney’s Office reports that this ordinance has been rarely used and supports its repeal. There have been no cases filed since the 2018 Reentry Group recommendation.

“I’m glad to have had Assistant City Prosecutor Jenna Robert contribute to the 2018 Reentry Workgroup because she helped voice and advance their recommendations in my office,” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. “Seattle is fortunate to have City Councilmembers who consider and respond to recommendations from those with lived experience in the criminal justice system, and I’m happy to see this legislation make it over the finish line. Here’s hoping other jurisdictions evaluate their own loitering policies.”

“It is important for us to take action,” said Councilmember Pedersen. “Over the past weeks of protest, Councilmembers have heard from tens of thousands of constituents demanding the end to disproportionate impacts fostered by our law enforcement system against people of color,” stated Councilmember Pedersen. He helped to initiate this action after his office reached out and listened to the input of constituents and stakeholders. Community organizations and grassroots coalitions including the Organization for Prostitution Survivors, Seattle Against Slavery, and Stolen Youth provided background on the stark racial disparities found in prostitution, trafficking, and exploitation.

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Time June 23, 2020 at 6:48 am

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Time June 23, 2020 at 7:21 am

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