Seattle City Council votes to repeal loitering laws

June 24, 2020 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — Two years after a workgroup convened by the city recommended that Seattle drop its drug traffic and prostitution loitering laws, the Seattle City Council on Monday unanimously voted to eliminate the ordinances.

Seattle City Council members celebrated the vote as a move away from a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets people of color, but community groups and public defenders are now asking city leaders to decriminalize most currently enforced misdemeanors.

The legislation will go next to Mayor Jenny Durkan for signing, but a spokesperson said the mayor had not yet had the opportunity to review the legislation, The Seattle Times reported.

The loitering laws, preceded in this country by racist, Jim Crow-era vagrancy laws designed to restrict the freedom of formerly enslaved people, have rarely been enforced in Seattle courts recently. The Seattle City Attorney’s Office filed fewer than 300 charges on both drug traffic loitering and prostitution loitering counts since 2009, according to an analysis by The Seattle Times.

The decision to stop charging drug traffic and prostitution loitering cases stemmed from the Seattle Reentry Workgroup, a group of experts and people with lived experience in the criminal justice system tasked with examining how the city could better support people exiting the criminal justice system and cut down on inequities.

“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,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement before the council vote.

He celebrated the legislation to strike the laws and added that he hoped “other jurisdictions will examine their own criminal loitering laws.”