The Right to Loiter
Some City Paper readers think resident Steven Conn should buck up and stop complaining about the group of teens and young adults hanging outside his place in the 300 block of W Street NE.
Existential question of the day: What is loitering, anyway? Three people congregating? Five? Five talking loudly? Ten? Any number that makes people wanting to come over for a dinner party "uncomfortable" enough that they won't get out of their car?
Realistically, says one commenter, jfc1, you have to appreciate the fact that in different communities there are different standards for what is and isn't "socially-acceptable behavior."
But Conn isn't the only soul who's complained about "loitering" of late.
On MPD listservs, plenty of other residents, including ANC 4B02 Commissioner Faith Wheeler, have expressed frustration with congregating youths. Wheeler offers some fuming paragraphs about an alley connected to the 6400 block of 7th Street NW. That alley, she contends, "has been the site of youths gambling, smoking pot, being disrespectful and threatening to business owners, using foul language."
"Young people are also just hanging out in front of the stores on that block and not moving on. This discourages customers from going into the stores. Fewer customers means lower income for the business owners, fewer tax dollars for the city."
While Wheeler can count on police showing up to look into reports of gambling, drugs, and threats, when it comes to kids "discouraging" customers from going into stores—simply by their presence—she'll have to get over it. Police Chief Cathy Lanier writes to City Desk: "D.C. does not have general loitering laws, as general loitering laws have been widely found to be unconstitutional."
That's something Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham learned the hard way. After championing anti-loitering laws the politician gave up last year, citing concerns about civil liberties. Writing to Ward 1 residents, Graham said he'd tried to enact loitering laws "to give residents and neighbors some much-needed relief from criminal congregants while also reaffirming the right to assemble."
"I don’t think a concern about loitering is a new problem," Lanier offers, "but it may be new to particular communities or neighborhoods. Generally, concerns about loitering reflect violations of a commonly accepted or perceived standard for conduct on public space, and of course those standards evolve and change over time."
Sounds a little like what jfc1 said...
Photography by Infrogmation, Creative Commons Attribution License