CARRBORO – The Board of Aldermen’s unanimous decision last week to repeal a 2007 anti-loitering ordinance won’t change how police respond to the intersection of Jones Ferry and Davie roads.Officers will continue to respond “proactively” when residents call, Chief Carolyn Hutchison said, although “in a perfect world, we would like additional personnel to respond to that corner.” The department also will continue to build community partnerships with residents, day laborers, and groups such as the Human Rights Center and El Centro Hispano, she said.
The anti-loitering ordinance has reduced the number of people at the corner but has done little to reduce crime in the area, Hutchison said. It prohibited people from standing at the corner – a popular pickup spot for day laborers – between 11 a.m. and 5 a.m. and was passed in response to complaints of harassment, trespassing, drinking and public urination.
The ordinance’s critics were jubilant after Tuesday’s vote. Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center director Judith Blau said the group is focused now on leaving Abbey Court for a house nearby, where it can operate existing programs and possibly a workers’ center.
Since summer, members of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network also have been working with a local task force to site a permanent day laborer center with access to water, restrooms and help with employment issues like wage theft.
Most of those who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said the anti-loitering ordinance was discriminatory, unconstitutional and reflected poorly on Carrboro’s reputation as a progressive community.
“I would oppose this ordinance if it were applied to my street or anywhere in town,” said resident Steve Dear, who has been eating lunch with other people at the corner every day since asking the board to repeal the law at its Oct. 25 meeting.
Dear said he decided to take action because he was disappointed with himself for not doing more and after hearing how the ordinance had affected the workers and their families. Mayor Mark Chilton said police did not stop the gatherings, because they were constitutionally protected political protest.
Some affected workers told the board how the ordinance limits the available jobs, since employers and residents often don’t seek help until later in the day, especially in winter. That leaves them with very little money to food and to provide for their families, they said.
Day laborer Santiago Hernandez said through an interpreter that he respects the police and respects the community but would like to be able to wait longer for work. Others echoed his request, and Jose Francisco Gonzalez said they also would like help with employers who refuse to pay.
Other residents who spoke said they were concerned that the neighborhood would return to its former state if the ordinance was repealed.
Bill Madden, who lived in Abbey Court before the ordinance and now lives on Fidelity Street, said he never felt threatened, but his female co-workers were hesitant to walk through the area, even to catch the bus.
“What I saw at the corner was that a lot of men would be drinking when they couldn’t get a job, when all the employers would leave in the latter portion of the morning, and the cops would chase them around Ridgewood, Abbey Court, behind the wooded area along Alabama [Avenue] and up and down Davie Road,” Madden said. “The community needs to take better action in self-policing. That if you see somebody out of line, call the cops, call 911.”
Sexual harassment, as well as drinking and public urination, were among reasons for the 2007 decision creating the ordinance. Alderwoman Jacquie Gist recommended the town find a way to pay for a community resource person and work next year to strengthen the anti-harassment ordinance so that lewdness directed at women would be considered hate speech.
“In any language, grabbing your crotch and saying, ‘You want some of this,’ I don’t think that that’s part of any culture,” Gist said. “That is a physical threat, and it is hate speech in the same way as, ‘I’m going to bash your head in because of your ethnicity.’ ”
The board voted unanimously to support Gist’s proposal and also to pursue Alderman Dan Coleman’s suggestion that the town collaborate with community partners to find the money for a full-time staff person at the corner.