Another Minneapolis ordinance is being targeted for removal by City Council members who say it is vague and could be used disproportionately against people of color.
Council Members Elizabeth Glidden and Blong Yang are authoring a measure to repeal a city ordinance that prohibits three or more people from congregating on streets or sidewalks. Glidden said the ordinance, which dates to 1960, contains outdated wording that may not hold up to legal scrutiny if an arrest were challenged.
It reads, in full: “Three (3) or more persons shall not stand together or near each other in any street or on any footwalk or sidewalk so as to obstruct the free passage for pedestrians, and any persons so standing shall move on immediately after a request to do so made by the mayor, chief of police or any police officer.”
In a Facebook post following Friday’s City Council meeting, Yang wrote that the ordinance “could be unconstitutional, and I think that the potential exists for it to be used unfairly against citizens in Minneapolis.”
Said Glidden: “Implicit bias may play into an ordinance that is worded like this. This is exactly the kind of thing we should be taking a review of and removing from the books — ordinances that just don’t seem to meet the smell test.”
She said the concerns over the regulation are similar to those raised about ordinances prohibiting “lurking” and spitting, which were repealed by the council last year following two well-attended public hearings. Council members and critics of those ordinances pointed to higher rates of black people being arrested for lurking, which was defined as lying “in wait” or being “concealed with intent to commit any crime or unlawful act.”
Between 2009 and 2014, 59 percent of the nearly 400 people arrested for lurking were black, while 24 percent were white. Meanwhile, 69 percent of the people who reported lurking offenses to police were white, while 12 percent were black.
It’s not clear how many people have been arrested in recent years under the street-congregating ordinance, or how those arrests break down on racial lines. Glidden said she has asked for statistics on the issue.
A Minneapolis Police Department spokesman said the department does not maintain statistics related to the ordinance and referred questions to the court system.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said the ordinance is one of several that she and other advocates would like to see taken off the books.
“That law has a Jim Crow-esque feel to it and is used as a pretext to stop and question primarily young people of color,” she said. Police should “hone in on more serious activity and not crack down on petty offenses that have the impact of bringing more people into the criminal justice system unnecessarily,” she added.
Levy-Pounds said the city should also look into reforming its curfew ordinance, which doesn’t line up with a county ordinance more commonly used to enforce the problem. She said young people of color are also disproportionately targeted for low-level arrests related to marijuana — an issue being taken up by another pair of council members, Jacob Frey and Andrew Johnson, in a recent proposal to bring city penalties for small-scale marijuana possession in line with state laws.
Levy-Pounds pointed to a 2015 report from the American Civil Liberties Union that found that among young people, blacks were nearly six times as likely to be arrested for low-level offenses as whites, while American Indians were nearly eight times as likely to be arrested.
Glidden said she’s confident that the city already has “better, more legally sound ways to enforce or address behavior issues that need to be addressed,” even if the ordinance prohibiting groups from gathering on streets and sidewalks is removed from the city code.
The issue will be taken up by a council committee before heading to the full council for a vote, a process likely to take a few months.