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Letter: Anti-loitering law unconstitutional

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) has sent a letter to Carrboro Town Attorney Michael Brough as well as to members of the town Board of Aldermen alerting them to the unconstitutionality of Carrboro’s anti-loitering ordinance.

Joined by lawyers from the North Carolina NAACP, ACLU of North Carolina, N.C. Justice Center, the N.C. Immigrant Rights Project, UNC Center for Civil Rights, UNC School of Law Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity, and professors in the UNC Immigration/Human Rights Policy Clinic and UNC Civil Legal Assistance Clinic, SCSJ staff attorney Chris Brook requests the Board of Aldermen rescind the ordinance.

Section 5-20(c) of the Carrboro Town Ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for any person to “stand, sit, recline, linger, or otherwise remain” on the corner of Davie and Jones Ferry Roads “between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 a.m.” The ordinance targets only this specific spot, where predominantly Latino day laborers gather to find work. After having their efforts to find work frustrated by the ordinance each day, police promptly herd them off the corner with patrol cars at 11 a.m.

Judith Blau, Director of the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, has asked the police to stop this practice and for the Board of Aldermen to abolish the ordinance.

The letter highlights the breadth of conduct made illegal on this corner, including “socializing at a community event, attempting to hail a cab, conducting a public health survey, handing out fliers calling for an end to Guantánamo Bay preventive detentions, [and] collecting funds for victims of recent tornadoes in North Carolina.” Barring this amount of constitutionally protected First Amendment speech is unconstitutional under the 2009 N.C. Court of Appeals decision in North Carolina v. Mello. In Mello, a far narrower Winston-Salem anti-loitering ordinance was struck down.

The objectionable conduct targeted, such as public urination, could be prevented by enforcement of the current criminal code, making the ordinance unnecessary. Furthermore, the ordinance is contrary to Carrboro’s stated “pride in being known as a community rich in cultural and economic diversity.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice

  1. Molly Uzzell

    It seems to me that ALL anti-loitering laws violate both the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both of which guarantee freedom of assembly.