Effort to repeal Mpls. spitting, lurking laws moves forward

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Council Member Cam Gordon
Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon is one of the sponsors of a resolution to eliminate laws that ban spitting and lurking. He spoke at a rally on the steps of the City Hall Rotunda on Friday, April 3, 2015.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Even though her husband, an avid geocacher, might be seen as violating the Minneapolis lurking ordinance, Anna Gambucci said he would never be arrested.

That's because he's "tall, and white and clean cut and nonthreatening to cops," she said.

"You can just see how clearly this law does not apply evenly," Gambucci told the Minneapolis Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee at a public hearing Wednesday.

The panel recommended approval to the full City Council, which is expected to vote next month.

Community activist Mel Reeves urged city officials to act. The hearing was the third time the city has asked for public input.

"If we know that these young people are being harassed there is no need to sit around and keep talking about it," Reeves said. "If we say we want to live in a just and equitable Minneapolis, we gotta make it so."

But Joseph Spangler told the council committee he doesn't want a repeal to set a precedent for future council actions.

"The repeal of the lurking ordinance may be of low significance to overall enforcement efforts," he said. "The repeal of other very useful ordinances such as loitering, trespassing and littering I fear is next and this will make a very negative impact."

Despite the City Council's objection to the repeal several years ago, Council Member Cam Gordon says some now see the lurking and spitting ordinances as a means to discriminate.

Minneapolis Police Department data show 59 percent of people arrested on suspicion of lurking from 2009 to 2014 were African American. The numbers also show that most often the people reporting the suspected lurkers were white.

But Gordon said the lurking and spitting ordinances are just a small piece of a much larger problem the city needs to address.

"I have to confess to you the lurking and the spitting aren't that significant of a problem in and of themselves," he said. "I'm convinced that the structural racism is so complex and is so deeply embedded from top to bottom that it's going to take a surgical precision knife and it's going to take broad brush strokes across the criminal justice system and beyond."