Under a newly signed bill, police in California will no longer be able to enforce a section of the penal code that leads to the disproportionate arrests of Black and trans residents when officers deem them to be loitering “with the intent to commit prostitution.”
Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced SB 357 to address vague and problematic language, according to the bill’s proponents.
“This offense permits law enforcement to stop and arrest people for discriminatory reasons, such as wearing revealing clothing while walking in an area where sex work has occurred before,” Sen. Wiener said. The penal code section, “results in the legal harassment of LGTBQ+, Black, and Brown communities for simply existing and looking like a ‘sex worker’ to law enforcement.”
Black individuals make up just 8.9 percent of the population in the City of LA, yet accounted for 56.1% of such loitering charges in the city between 2017-2019.
A 2019 LA Public Defender’s Office analysis showed Black adults made up 72.3 percent of people charged under § 653.22, who received representation through the Compton branch of the public defender’s office. Black people represent 30.9 percent of the city’s population. Cisgender and transgender women made up 100 percent of those charged under the penal code section, according to the report.
In addition to preventing future arrests and charges of this kind, SB 357, also called The Safer Streets for All Act, allows people who have previously been convicted of this loitering offense to submit a petition for resentencing or dismissal, and to have their records sealed.
CA Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 357 on July 1. The bill, does not legalize sex work, Newsom wrote in his signing letter. “It simply revokes provisions of the law that have led to disproportionate harassment of women and transgender adults.”
Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton and Los Angeles County DA George Gascón praised Newsom’s decision.
“We supported this law being repealed because the language used was overbroad, subjective and allowed law enforcement to stop and arrest people for discriminatory reasons,” Gascón wrote in a statement.
Changing the penal code, according to the ACLU, one of the organizations that helped develop the bill, will also “undo harmful barriers to employment and access to safe housing for women of color and transgender women.”
The ACLU of California, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Equality California, Positive Women’s Network, St. James Infirmary, SWOP LA, and Trans Latin@ Coalition helped develop the bill and were listed as the bill’s “co-sources.”
More than 60 organizations officially backed the bill, including the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the California Public Defenders Association, Californians for Safety and Justice, and the City of West Hollywood.
In a statement opposing the bill, the LA County Sheriff’s Department said patrol officers use the law “to keep prostitutes from hanging around public places, businesses, and residential communities.” The bill, the department said will also make it harder for law enforcement to go after sex buyers and traffickers.
The governor, in his signing letter, said that he agreed with the intent of the bill, but added that his administration “will monitor crime and prosecution trends for any possible unintended consequences and will act to mitigate any such impacts.”
The bill builds on Sen. Scott Wiener’s earlier decriminalization-focused work, including SB 233, a 2019 bill meant to ensure that sex workers who are victimized or who witness violent crimes are not funneled into the criminal justice system themselves when they come forward to report those crimes to the police.
The bill changed the penal code to protect people engaged in sex work — who report crimes like sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, robbery, assault, kidnapping, threats, blackmail, extortion, and burglary — from facing arrest, themselves, for allegedly engaging in low-level drug and sex work-related crimes.
Yet another CA Assembly Bill introduced by CA State Assemblyperson Wiener with a clearly biased agenda which will yet again led to perilous unintended (or possibly intended) social consequences. Remember the messaging regarding the merits of de-criminalizing drug use and the resulting 100K+ deaths of 18-45 year olds just last year. What about the decriminalization of homelessness and rampant and unabated crisis it has created. The research backed these legislative winners to! Hogwash! All of these were raging success by bizzaro world standards I guess!
The bill signed into law by Governor Newsome is not surprising as he has rubber stamped and signed into law other wrong headed bills presented by his former San Francisco ally with a similar theme. The current law does basically legalize prostitution no matter how you want to spin it as it prohibits police officers from using their “training and experience” in recognizing and acting upon suspicious behaviors which have been recognized over decades of “school of hard knocks” education to be indicative of prostitution.
Assemplyoerson Wiener and Governor Newsome are ignoring the tenets of social responsibility and public health in the name of protecting a small class of individuals (transgender) which is “perceived” to be unduly targeted for committing the very acts which the court of law is the ultimate arbiter? Consequently, these two politicians have dealt a death blow to all the front line efforts to prevent and deter hymn’s trafficking.
Assemblyperson Wiener has successfully authored and persuaded the governor to sign other laws into effect which he claims “unduly target” his affiliated group(s) including those that dealt with the deliberate and knowingly transmission of HIV to another person and “re-defining “ the interpretation and penalties of unlawful sexual acts specifically between male adults and males minors. These are “small changes” and erosions to the states criminal justice system and social fabric that are on-going in Sacramento which regretfully, will for the most part go unnoticed until it affects voters on an up close and personal level. The ousting of former San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin should serve as an example and cautionary tale of the dangers lurking within the state and local governments to erode society.
Thanks, Taylor! I have distributed over 1,000 pepper spray canisters (along with snacks, condoms, restaurant gift cards, hand warmers, cold drinks, etc.) to commercially exploited women on the streets of Oakland. The rationalization to be able to arrest them is neither humane, rational, or beneficial.