California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a state bill that repeals an older law designed to crack down on people loitering for sex work.
"I am signing Senate Bill 357, which repeals provisions of the law related to loitering with intent to commit prostitution," Newsom said in a statement when he signed the law July 1. "To be clear, this bill does not legalize prostitution. It simply revokes provisions of the law that have led to disproportionate harassment of women and transgender adults."
Newsom said the law disproportionately impacted "Black and brown women and members of the LGBTQ community."
State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat representing San Fransisco, introduced the legislation, which ends the practice of arresting people for loitering based on the "perception" they plan to engage in sex work.
"This proposal — arrests for which are based on an officer's subjective perception of whether a person is 'acting like' they intend to engage in sex work — results in the disproportionate criminalization of trans, Black and brown people, and perpetuates violence toward sex workers," Wiener wrote in a press release when he introduced the legislation. "SB 357 does not decriminalize soliciting or engaging in sex work. Rather, it simply eliminates an anti-loitering offense that leads to harmful treatment of people for simply 'appearing' to be a sex worker."
Wiener said existing law allowed a broad interpretation that gave rise to discrimination.
"Law enforcement can use a non-exhaustive list of circumstances to 'determine' if someone intends to engage in sex work, including factors such as speaking with other pedestrians, being in an area where sex work has occurred before, wearing revealing clothing, or moving in a certain way," he said. "Because current law regarding loitering is highly subjective and vague, law enforcement officers disproportionately profile and target Black and brown transgender women by stopping and arresting people for discriminatory and inappropriate reasons.
"This is how Black and brown transgender women get arrested and cited for quite simply walking on the street. It also gives law enforcement the ability to more easily target and arrest sex workers."
In signing the measure that repeals this provision, Newsom said Black adults accounted for 56.15% of the loitering charges between 2017-19 despite being only 10% of the city's population.
"We're experiencing a terrifying epidemic of violence against trans women of color, and we need to be proactive in improving their safety," Wiener added. "Our laws should protect the LGBTQ community and communities of color, and not criminalize sex workers, trans people and brown and Black people for quite literally walking around or dressing in a certain way.
"New York has led the way and shown that it's far past time we end this discriminatory targeting of suspected sex workers. We must stop enabling law enforcement to harass trans women of color on our streets.
"We need to stand with trans women of color and sex workers and stand with all people fighting for autonomy and safety and against racist and transphobic discrimination."
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