Lurking Law Comes Out In The Open

Jean Hopfensperger, Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 7, 2007

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A number of groups, including the Minneapolis NAACP, Minneapolis Urban League and African American Family Services, say it’s time to get rid of the city’s “lurking” ordinance. It has been used as a pretense for targeting young African-American men, they argue.

And one Minneapolis City Council member said he will take the lead in trying to repeal the ordinance.

But the Minneapolis police, some neighborhood groups and key City Council members—such as Council President Barbara Johnson—say it’s an important tool to deter more serious crime.

“The lurking ordinance is one more tool that officers use to keep neighborhoods safe,” said Lt. Amelia Huffman, a spokeswoman for the department.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are among a handful of major cities in the nation with an ordinance targeting lurking, a misdemeanor.

The Minneapolis ordinance, first put on the books in 1877 to deal with stowaways on railroad cars, states: “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.”

An analysis showed that 58 percent of the 800 people who have been arrested or cited for lurking since 2003 were black, compared with 26 percent who were white, according to the Council on Crime and Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy group in Minneapolis.

And of the 103 homeless people arrested under the ordinance, all were black, said Guy Gambill, advocacy director for the council.

“What is the criteria for being arrested for lurking?” said Duane Reed, president of the Minneapolis NAACP. “Do people have to look suspicious? Is it driving while being black? Is it walking while black? I’ve personally been stopped [for driving], and I don’t even look like a thug. Lurking is a subjective thing and [an] officer is determining what a person is thinking.”We’re certainly aware of the concerns expressed by some people in terms of looking at the demographic information,” Huffman said. “But that lens is too narrow. You could make that same argument for virtually every arrest in Minneapolis.”

For example, about 64 percent of people arrested by Minneapolis police in most crimes are African-American, she said.

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