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Seattle council mulls bills repealing loitering crimes for drug offenders, sex workers

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis. (Facebook)

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis introduced a pair of bills Monday, which would eliminate the loitering crimes as they relate to drug trafficking and prostitution.

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Drug trafficking loitering laws emerged throughout the U.S. in the 1990s as part of the “War on Drugs,” allowing police to arrest someone for loitering who they suspected of being a drug offender.

Similarly, prostitution loitering laws allow police to arrest someone for a loitering crime without clearly establishing whether a suspect was soliciting prostitution.

Both laws have historically targeted people of color.

“This is an outdated, and frankly racist policy in our City’s municipal code.” Councilmember Tammy Morales said. “By repealing this part of the code we are assured that drug offenders and sex workers will be treated humanely and not criminalized.”

Morales and Councilmember Alex Pedersen are co-sponsors with Lewis on the bill addressing prostitution loitering.

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The proposed repeal measures came about as part of a longer series of recommendations from a workgroup commissioned by the city in 2018, to develop policy ideas assisting incarcerated individuals with reentry into society.

Voicing support for the measures was Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who helped Lewis draft the drug trafficking loitering repeal.

“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,” Holmes said, noting that his office has not filed charges for either crime since the workgroup submitted its recommendations two years ago.

Both bills will be voted on in the full council session scheduled for Monday, June 22.

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