Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good Grief! Now Is Not The Time To Repeal The Minneapolis "Lurking" Ordinance

Joseph Sodd III, stabbed to death on the West Bank yesterday

So about a month ago I was walking on my campus and I noticed purple fliers had been posted all over the Washington Avenue Bridge, crying out against the "lurking ordinance."

The fliers were urging naive college students (the vast majority of which had never before heard of the ordinance, much less been personally oppressed by it) to instantly form a strong opinion and send emails to Council Member Hofestede telling her to vote for repeal of the ordinance....

I think I found the fliers useful. It seems to me I may have sent an email to Hofestede urging her NOT to vote for repeal, and mentioning the fact of the "Tinky-Winkie purple" fliers posted all over the bridge.

There are no indications people are being picked on for their characteristics and arrested under this ordinance, contrary to the hyperbole and "what ifs" put forward by the well-meaning folks who want to repeal the law. But the recent murder of Joseph Sodd III on the West Bank should show the value of an ordinance which prohibits lurking about to do crimes. If Sodd was killed in a robbery--and the indications look a lot like robbery--then the robber probably spent some time lurking about with a knife, looking for a potential victim.

As my recent blog post about "slap on the wrist" sentences shows, "oppression" by police isn't a huge problem in Minneapolis. Certainly all systems could use some improvement and may have some bad actors, some unfortunate incidents. More diversity would greatly improve the ranks of MPD and I'm glad there are sharp critics keeping the police honest.

But this idea of "repeal the lurking ordinance" is a solution in search of a non-existent problem.

You know why we need the lurking ordinance? We need it because of bad actors like Khameron NMN Lake, who reportedly has a rap sheet as long as the arm of a full grown man and who boldly stakes out street corners to do his deals, even if he's been arrested before on those very corners. The naive little latte-sippers crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge, sending missives with their Blackberry devices, have NO FREAKING CLUE why North Minneapolis needs a tool like the lurking ordinance.

But maybe somebody like Joseph Sodd III getting stabbed in the neck on the West Bank and bleeding out his young life on a cold, hard sidewalk before he's old enough to drink might give the latte-sippers at U of M reason to reconsider their innocent outlook, might quench the insane desire to hold hands with well-known pimps, hookers and crack heads and sing "Kumbaya."

Why do we need the lurking ordinance? Jeff Skrenes of HACC was kind enough (per my request) to put it in an email, as follows.


The ordinance prohibits "lurking with the intent to commit a crime." So if someone who doesn't belong somewhere is hanging around a vacant house, looking for a chance to get in when nobody is around, or waiting for an opportunity to do any number of illicit activities such as drugs or prostitution or mugging someone, they can be cited for this activity.

It's a small offense, but it gives our law enforcement officials an essential tool to combat suspicious activity. With the dramatic rise in vacant homes, this tool is needed now more than ever.

However, a civil rights group consistently tries to get this ordinance lessened or taken away. They're back at it again this year and the vote is coming up at this Friday's (tomorrow's) council meeting.

The group held a meeting recently and only one person spoke up in favor of this statute. What does this tell you? They were better organized at that time. Since many of our council members have begun to raise awareness, more and more messages from neighbors have been pouring in asking that this ordinance remain intact.

I can certainly see where, from a purely abstract civil liberties argument, something like this ordinance can be abused. But it's a needed tool without any major instances of abuse or misuse coming to light. This proposal [to repeal the ordinance] is a solution in search of a problem. Even if the law needs tweaking, now is not the time to weaken it.


annalee said...

please don't use Joe as a lever in your political argument. I think it is a little soon. those of us who care about our friends, family and neighbors such as Joe are not preoccupied with the law right now and I would ask you to respect that. good vibrations, man.

Johnny Northside said...

Good vibrations to you, too, and sorry about your friend.

Annalee, I am frequently on the West Bank of campus and out in Cedar Riverside, and it makes me feel quite uncomfortable to know this happened not far from areas I frequent.

When people die in this way, their life becomes a very public matter, a matter of pressing concern for the living.

The living must make arrangements for the well-being of society, which is made up of the living, and pointing out in public discourse how we still need the lurking ordinance exactly and precisely because of stuff like Joe's tragic death is part of that ongoing, necessary and truly inevitable process of trying to make the world a bit safer for the living.

Tragedy, unfortunately, happens every day. You really can't keep people from talking about it. And would you *want* to? There will come a time, all too soon, when not many people will talk about this sad event very often at all. New tragedies will utterly preoccupy us.

Indeed, there are two notable tragedies in the same newspaper today which would make people turn quickly away from Joe's murder and, instead, to the subject of the young Minnesotan killed in Philadelphia--probably for his Ipod--or the two minors charged with murdering a mother and her son.

I hope the police manage to nab a suspect in Joe's murder while the issue is in the public eye. You should do anything you can to *keep* this issue in the public eye, at least until a suspect is nabbed.

Whoever did this is still out there, unless the police have nabbed a suspect and we'll hear something about it in the media.

(And then people will comment on what it all means)

From what I read about Joe, (who sounds like a really wonderful person) I think he would have understood people will need to have discussions about what happened and its greater impact and meaning, people beyond his immediate circle.

Yes, you hurt and you are preoccupied with this unbelievable tragedy. But this matter is of legitimate concern to people beyond those who knew Joe personally, though admittedly it's not an issue of concern in the same emotionally-wrenching way as those who knew him.

Police are "preoccupied." People who live near the spot where this took place are "preoccupied." And, yes, people who constantly focus on various public safety issues are "preoccupied."

I want people to be able to walk, bike, or drive safely on the streets of Minneapolis or, for that matter, to be safe inside their houses, or to have their property safe when they are not right there physically watching it.

I'm sure I'm not the only blogger who finds this a rather notable tragedy which will inevitably be the topic of all kinds of political discourse both elevated and, well, not elevated.

In hot, anonymous chat threads where unknown people leave crude remarks, I'm sure you will see much worse commentary than my little "this is a good reason not to repeal the lurking ordinance."

I put the news article about this event in front of my son and said, "Read this."

And while eating crinkly fries for breakfast, my son sat and read every word, and then put his little 11-year-old brain to trying to solve the murder, as though he could pull it off just from what he read in the newspaper.

I care. I write because I give a shit and I don't want everything to be meaningless, forgotten, and all in vain. I may be wrongheaded and blunt, but I'm sincere and, well, there it is.

Colin said...

Hi Johnny,

Putting the somewhat untactful evocation of Josephs tragic death aside, I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of the Minneapolis Lurking Ordinance.

Cam Gordan, city council member and vocal supporter of repealing the Lurking Ordinance, put it into better words then I could have (check the editorial section of today's Star Trib). I summarize:

- It’s discriminatory: 162 of the 231 arrests made in 2006 and 2007 have been people of color. That’s 70%.
- It’s unsuccessful: “Of the 136 adults arrested for lurking last year, only 77 went on to be tried by the city attorney’s office. Of those, only 19 were convicted.” That’s a measly 15% conviction rate.
- It’s outmoded: In a survey of the 100 largest US cities, Minneapolis is one of two that have an actual lurking ordinance. The other? Grand Rapids.
- And most importantly, in my view, it erodes the health of our city and “increases the racial and economic disparities that plague us.”

I know you care about your neighborhood and you can consider me a fan of your DIY efforts to make the city a safer place for all of us, but the lurking ordinance is ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. There are better ways to clean up our streets then disproportionally targeting innocent people of color and the homeless for "lurking."

In any case, keep up the great work! I support it whole-heartedly!

Anonymous said...

Having been almost murdered by a gang of negro males many years ago, and having been threatened several times with death by negro males, I could care less about the politics involved. Saving what's left of our city from hoodlums is more important.

I've looked at some of the numbers from a few years back, and in Minneapolis, robbery victims reported that 85% of the time that the suspects were black males. These are the turds who are hanging out, looking for naive victims to rob and kill. Before you go screaming "racism', pull your head out of your butt and realize that robbery victims have no reason to lie about who robbed them, and nobody is forcing the turds to be robbers.

We need tools like the Lurking Ordinance to keep the criminal element in check.

Johnny Northside said...

To Anonymous: I'm putting your post up "in the spirit of Voltaire" for the purposes of a robust, substantive discussion but I don't even want to get into this particular pool of mud and wrestle.

To Collin:

Well, I like most of the things Cam Gordon stands for--I am a Green Party member like him--and thanks for your tone of "friendly agreement to disagree" and for posting, verbatim, all those "talking points" which were on the "Tinky Winky purple" posters which plastered all over the Washington Avenue Bridge a month or so ago.

HOWEVER, I don't really see how keeping this ordinance on the books would be any kind of "waste of taxpayer dollars." The time the city council spent discussing whether to repeal the ordinance could *also* be looked upon as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

In public discourse, there is a strong tendency to cry out against something being a "waste" of public resources without saying exactly how *anything* is being wasted.

The rates of conviction don't support an argument to repeal the ordinance. Some crimes are harder to prove than others but that's not AUTOMATICALLY an argument for repealing ordinances against those crimes.

Stats aren't the same as horror stories. Show me the sympathetic person with a set of facts which shows obvious targeting and repression by this law. There doesn't appear to be anybody like that, just some stats.

(Unattributed stats, I might add, with one raised eyebrow) there a point you were making about "Grand Rapids?" Is there something inherently provincial and retro about "Grand Rapids" to the degree one can simply say, "The other? Grand Rapids" to make one's point? Is there some indication Grand Rapids is a hotbed of intolerance?

The biggest problem right now on the North Side are the OPEN AIR DRUG MARKETS.

The lurking ordinance is a tool to fight the open air drug markets. On a different day, in a different neighborhood, I might find myself passionately on the *other* side of this debate the way I was opposed to the "no sitting on the sidewalk" law in Seattle.

But being in the middle of the "Costco of Crack" has made me a strong supporter of the lurking ordinance.

The naive little suburban softies crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge and reading the "pro-repeal" talking points between sips of latte aren't the ones dealing with what we're dealing with on my block.

Anonymous said...

...what do you have against latte?

Johnny Northside said...

I like lattes. But "latte sipping" is one of those little external indications that somebody lives in a comfortable, unrealistic little world.

Not always, but enough that when I say "latte sipping" people are talking about a North Minneapolis issue, readers get my meaning.

Anonymous said...

I MIGHT agree with Johnny Northside but someone that goes out of their way to include name calling as part of their argument for or against something needs to lose the argument.
I think he even pointed out that the lurking ordinance had little impact on those that would be arrested for violating it.
So Johnny go complain to your coffee guzzlers and... well... why do I even bother a name caller will never listen anyways.
Oh well...