A dozen members of the Minneapolis city council voted Friday to repeal century-old laws against lurking and spitting, leaving the city’s population dangerously vulnerable to train-jumpers and tuberculosis carriers. Critics of the laws cited a damning ACLU report that showed they were disproportionately used in more recent times against minorities, with African-Americans, who make up 19 percent of the city’s population, accounting for 59 percent of lurking arrests and 93 percent of spitting arrests over the past several years.
These two ordinances are antiquated, unnecessary, and unfairly affect people of color in our community. It’s about time we got them off the books. I thank the Council for moving forward and taking this important next step to make changes that help enable more equitable outcomes.
The lurking and spitting prohibitions were repealed on a 12-1 vote, with the council’s president, Barbara Johnson, as the lone voice in opposition. Johnson did all she could to throw herself on the tuberculosis grenade, publishing an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune a week before the vote to say that, while “concerns that have been raised about equitable enforcement of our laws,” the “lurking and spitting laws need enforcing — not repealing”:
I’ve looked closely at the handful of lurking arrests that have been made in my ward in the last year or so, and it seems clear to me that police had probable cause to make the arrest in every case. Spitting is a disgusting habit and people should not have to be afraid to sit on bus benches or touch surfaces because people have used them to clear their nose or lungs.
Johnson might have been alone in her noble stand for bus bench hygiene among city council members, but the Minneapolis-St. Paul Businesss Journal reported that local Chamber of Commerce president Todd Klingel was solidly behind the effort to keep lurkers and spitters out of his treasured downtown entertainment district:
“The Chamber stands with Council President Johnson on this issue,” Klingel wrote in an email newsletter to members. “We are about to embark on a $50 million reconstruction of Nicollet Mall (1/2 of the money provided by business). I, for one, do not want to see this effort to make Minnesota’s main street more inviting thwarted because people are allowed to lurk in the trees and spit on the lovely new surfaces.”
Klingel did not consult with minority chamber members on the effort, and said doing so likely would not have changed his opinion.
“If there is [blowback from taking this position], there is. People know I’m not shy… We think we’re opposed for the right reasons,” he said in an interview Thursday.
Lurking in the trees? Since all the trees on the pedestrian mall he’s talking about are spindly urban specimens that couldn’t conceal even the tiniest human lurker, we assume Todd suffers from an unresolved phobia of owls.
The Minneapolis Downtown Council, a self-important but essentially meaningless consortium of business leaders, warned darkly of “ripple effects” from decriminalizing the act of expectorating in public:
Following today’s action by the Minneapolis City Council to repeal two ordinances aimed at maintaining the livability and civility of our community, the downtown business community will be paying close attention to what comes next. Contrary to the assertions of proponents, eliminating laws defining an expected level of conduct that help insure (sic) public safety throughout Minneapolis will not solve the deeply rooted challenges of bias in our criminal justice system.
Most of Minneapolis’s elected leaders appear to have turned their backs on the beleaguered business community, pandering instead to the shadowy group known as “their constituents” and turning the city into a whirling carnival of lurking and spitting that police will be powerless to combat. We hope those wholesome gay poster boys have sandbagged their house against the coming saliva tide.
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