Minneapolis Considers Getting Rid of Lurking and Spitting Laws

Non-whites make up almost three-fourths of the people arrested for lurking in Minneapolis over the last five years

Non-whites make up almost three-fourths of the people arrested for lurking in Minneapolis over the last five years

Lurking is one of the weirder crimes still on the books in Minneapolis. Here's its official definition:

"No person, in any public or private place, shall lurk, lie in wait or be concealed with intent to commit any crime or unlawful act."

See also: Myles Thomas Puts Mpls Cops on Blast After They Write Him a Ticket For Spitting Near U of M Campus

The lurking ordinance gives police discretion to apprehend people before they actually do anything wrong. How does one judge "intent to commit a crime," anyway? Shifty eyes? Wearing one of those black-and-white striped burglar shirts?

Turns out, it might have something to do with skin color.

Over the last five years, only 24 percent of the people arrested for lurking were white -- in a city that's 64 percent white.

"There's mixed feelings about lurking. There's a tendency for people not to want to give up any tool that they might have to stop crime," says City Council Member Cam Gordon. "But it seems to contribute to the sense of racial disparity in the city and lack of trust many in our community have in the police."

Gordon and City Council Member Blong Yang have sponsored an effort to repeal city laws banning lurking and spitting, another of the so-called "livability crimes" that disproportionately target minorities.

In 2013, we reported on a young black male arrested for spitting near the U of M. The man said he felt he wasn't treated fairly and was offended by his arrest.

The repeal of such laws has been one of the demands Black Lives Matter makes when it talks about moving toward a more equitable Minneapolis.

"These ordinances have not proven to make streets safer, but have only perpetuated negative stereotypes and resulted in unnecessary interactions between police officers and community," the group writes on its Facebook page.

Gordon tried to repeal lurking back in 2008, but he was denied on a 7-5 vote, with the victorious opposition led by City Council President Barb Johnson.

Johnson can't make tomorrow's hearing, so Gordon says it's likely it will be continued for at least two more weeks so she can weigh in before it goes before the full City Council. Even if Johnson doesn't change her mind, Gordon feels pretty good about the repeal effort working this time around with a new, younger, more progressive council.

"The time is right for this. We have people asking for this and elected officials who are looking to regain public trust," he says.

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