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Andrew Lewis, loitering bills
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Seattle council passes bills ending loitering crimes for drug offenders, sex workers

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis. (Seattle Channel)

Seattle City Council unanimously passed a pair of bills Monday, eliminating 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.

“Today we’re taking a step in the right direction, making sure our laws reflect our values and don’t create additional burdens on our Black and brown community members,” said Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis, who co-sponsored both bills.

The measures came about as part of a longer series of recommendations from a workgroup study commissioned by the city in 2018. The study found that in Seattle, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color are frisked 15% more often than white people, and have firearms pointed at them 30% more often than “similarly situated white people.”

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The hope with this legislation is to eliminate those points of “potentially negative interaction,” which have disproportionately targeted Black and brown communities.

The measure was supported by City Attorney Pete Holmes, whose office has not filed charges for either drug trafficking loitering or prostitution loitering since the workgroup submitted its recommendations.

“Seattle is fortunate to have City Councilmembers who consider and respond to recommendations from those with lived experience in the criminal justice system, and I’m happy to see this legislation make it over the finish line,” Holmes said Monday. “Here’s hoping other jurisdictions evaluate their own loitering policies.”

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