Published: Oct 30, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Oct 29, 2011 04:16 PM
We get the impression that, in most ways, both sides in the debate over Carrboro's anti-loitering ordinance are actually on the same side.
A group of residents led by Steve Dear and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice have stepped up the pressure on the Board of Aldermen to repeal the four-year old ordinance, which prohibits anyone from lingering at the corner of Jones Ferry and Davie roads between 11 a.m. and 5 a.m. (a window of time that looks a little confusing at first; it means you can hang out there from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m., at which time you have to clear out until 5 the next morning).
The protesters have given a "community letter" to Town Hall with more than 110 signatures on it, calling for the immediate repeal of the ordinance. They gathered at the site at 11 a.m. last Tuesday, deliberately flouting the ordinance, and Dear, who wrote the letter, has said he plans to have lunch at the corner every day - essentially daring the police to arrest him - until the town repeals the law.
He's hardly facing an implacable opponent. The ordinance has never sat easily in Carrboro, which has a history of trying to find more progressive and creative solutions to challenges, and the Board of Aldermen seems to share the ultimate goal of the protesters, which is to replace the ordinance with a better solution. A motion to repeal it fell just one vote short Tuesday night, and might well have passed if the board weren't already planning to consider the issue in four weeks anyway.
We've never spent a day in law school, but the ordinance itself strikes us as overly broad, and we'd be surprised if it were to withstand a vigorous legal challenge.
Perhaps more to the point, though, it's a blunt-instrument sort of measure that is out of keeping with Carrboro's character.
Repealing the ordinance, though, is the easy part. The much harder question is what to replace it with.
Because, love it or hate it, the ordinance has been effective at doing what it was intended to do. The incidence of unacceptable behavior at that intersection has diminished. The ordinance may be a flawed tool, but it was adopted for a good reason: Something had to be done about the drinking, public urination and harassment of passersby, especially women, that was going on there. Nobody wants to see the situation return to that.
So repeal of the ordinance, if it happens, must be accompanied, or at least quickly followed, by some other plan to fill the vacuum.
As Alderwoman Jacquie Gist pointed out, the issue is one of conflicting goals: ensuring the rights of day laborers to congregate to seek work, and ensuring the right of women, and everyone else, to walk down the street without being harassed and offended.
We hope the protesters urging repeal won't simply consider mission accomplished if in fact the board rescinds the ordinance. Because what comes after that is the stickier question, and we can use some bright and dedicated minds working on it.
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