Lingering doubts?

The Town of Carrboro is scheduling a public hearing for an "anti-lingering ordinance" - basically another way of saying a loitering ordinance - that would apply only at certain times of day and only at the intersection of Jones Ferry Road and Davie Road (ie: across the street from Abbey Court apartments, aka Old Well when I was in college). If you've ever driven by in the morning, you know that this site is used daily by contractors to pick up day laborers.

The problem is that after those with jobs leave, a lot of guys hang around, look unsavory (hardly a crime), and sometimes cause real problems. Back in September the Board of Aldermen directed the town staff to step up enforcement of alcohol rules and to work with property owners and neighbors in the area to address problems with littering, etc.

I understand the Town doesn't want to interfere with folks who are legitimately looking for work, because the proposed ordinance would only regulate "lingering" after 11:00 am when most day laborers are going to have already gotten work for the day (or not). But the ordinance still seems a little heavy handed. Southern towns used to use loitering ordinances to make it illegal to be black and in the "wrong" part of town at the wrong time. I'm sure that Carrboro is not trying to do that sort of thing, but it does pretty clearly step on people's civil liberties.

The Board of Aldermen is (are?) holding a public hearing on the "anti-lingering" ordinance on October 23 30 at 7:30 pm at Carrboro Town Hall.

So what do y'all think? Is this good public safety or an encroachment on civil rights?



I have, once or twice, heard transactions with prostitutes go down on that street corner. I try not to go through there very often, and I almost never stop, so to me it's telling that one of the few times I DID stop to get gas (with my small child in the car), I couldn't help but overhear a very loud negotiation going on between a man who wanted sex but didn't want to pay and a woman who was willing but wanted money. I don't know how else to interpret that. I'm sure it's related.

Well the ordinance itself is only a tool to have on hand if the need arises. So whether it is a slippery slope from safety to encroachment depends on how it is used.

How is it heavy-handed or stepping on civil liberties? Could you give some specifics?

Um, for example: limiting people's right to be a public place when they haven't done anything wrong. What if I walk down that street or meet a friend on that corner? Could I be arrested? And if not, is it because I'm white?

I meant to also ask in the post: What else can we do about this corner?

Is the transaction of hiring day labor breaking a Town ordinance or State law?

An idea:
What if the Town of Carrboro looked at this as a economic development project? Both in the support of employers and laborers. Couldn't a space on the Town Commons be designated as a official pick up spot? Someplace near a bathroom, shade, and water. (that would be the minimum resources provided) This way other citizens feeling of safety is increased because the Town is looking over this, people looking for work are less likely to be taken advantage of, and people wanting to hire folks can more safely assume that people standing on Town property aren't wanted by the police for an outstanding warrant. (logic: people wanted for a crime won't stand around Town Commons.)

Maybe a permit could be granted for people wanting to hire folks from this labor zone. This could help prevent situations like the mural being painted over. If people looking for work knew to ask for a permit from potential employers then they might increase their chance of getting paid. Plus someone wanting to hire random labors to commit a crime would be discouraged.

I also see major opportunities for local police getting to know people. Building trust has to start somewhere. What better way than to help people get much needed jobs. (My example would not include prostitution, drug dealing, or other illegal activities. Nor am I suggesting the Town run a staffing business.)

BTW - I am not going to make assumptions about people's citizen status etc. just because they stand on a corner. This would be a safe zone where I.C.E databases are not be used by local law enforcement.

The public hearing will be next week on Tuesday October 23.

I like Brian's proposal very much. Mike Nelson had a similar notion a few years ago.

I don't think the people looking for work would be in favor of a permit for people to hire them. This would decrease the amount of work available.

I also don't think that the employers would go for this either. This would then be a record of who is hiring undocumented workers. Plus (and I've never hired day labor), as a small builder, the last thing I want is yet one more form or permit (privilege licenses, insurance, solid waste forms, etc.) to deal with. Officials talk about affordable housing on Monday & impose costs in a myriad of ways on Tuesday & don't seem to see the connection.

This is sticky territory - providing work for people caught in a screwed-up & contradictory status as residents - where doing the fair thing is often illegal.

I agree with Brian and Catherine. Let's make it easier for folks to find work and reduce the need for extended "loitering."

I get worried any time government tries and make new ordinances to correct very small "problems." There's got to be a better way; I tend to think we have enough laws and regulations (if not too many).

There's a lot of detail about the specifics of the situation at the corner in a report compiled by Carrboro's James Harris. Ordinance specifics, for instance, would likely not affect those looking for work since enforcement would be only from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. I think the discussion the board had on this is informative as well.
It's agenda item E 1 on this agenda (video available):

You know, I'm one of those that wonders what happened to the spirit of the invitation at the base of the Statue of Liberty. You know the one: it says something about "poor and huddled masses" being welcome in ths new(ish) land of ours.

I don't remember anything about green cards, border fences or immigration requirements. And I sure don't recall anything about being herded around town, just to fit in with the NIMBY predelictions of those already living here.

These folk are simply engaging in the spirit of free enterprise. What we should be doing is helping them to make a go of it - where they are. They gather there because they live in Abbey Court. Why on earth shoud they have to travel half-way across town to make a living - a town they barely know enough to find somewhere called "Town Commons."

There are more than enough laws already to cover jay-walking, prostitution, assault and the like. All it needs is the will to enforce them, and a determined effort to work with the spirit of what is happening on that corner - not against it. And while we're about it, why not have more policemen on foot in Abbey Court, which to anyone who has lived there, as I have, is colloquially known as 'Carrboro's Ghetto'?

These good people have to come to this country to get a piece of the American Dream. Let's truly help them - as much as possible on their terms - and let's re-discover for ourselves the true spirit of America's 'melting pot.'

And if this is too idealistic, then call me 'quixote.'

Geoff, if you really think this is about immigration, you must not have read any of the news articles about what is happening or what is proposed. Framing it that way is not helping us find a useful solution to the real problems going on there.

If I lived at Abbey Court (which I did 16 years ago when it was still mostly non-white residents), I would be afraid to go to the convenience store across the street or wait for the bus unaccompanied right now. Is that a crime? No. But is it a problem for the people of Carrboro? Yes, I think it is.

If on public property, then some natural order would prevail. A permit requirement has a ton of administrative and ethical baggage, so let's not go there (as Mark argues).

Here we go again offering Carrboro as either the ground-breaking pioneer or the sacricial lamb of good intentions. If we get this right, we're designing the first ever effective outreach to the immigrant/Latino community.

You are right MarkM. More permits may not be the answer.

I'm not suggesting people be herded or force to go across town. The location of a safe pickup zone could be many places or more than one.

Town policy can be unobtrusive and effective. We shouldn't dismiss its value. More regulation is not always bad.

The main concept of my idea was to find a way to *officially* support people who are looking for work. Not to just tell them what they can't do. I agree with Geoff we must help EVERYONE discover their part of the American dream. But it is not my intention to turn this into polarized immigration debate.

What's are your constructive ideas about solving this problem?

Thanks for that link Kirk. It does sound like the Town of Carrboro has already done a lot. Good to see and hear. Video of council and alderman meetings are a great thing!

I wonder how often we discuss things here on OP without all the info? I'm glad we have pros paying attention and elected officials who talk with us here on a regular basis. (More would be better)

One good place to start would be to ask the men themselves, and those who hire them, what sort of town accommodation would facilitate their morning matchmaking. To my uninformed eye, BrianR's idea seems like a very good one ... but I know nothing about this particular labor market, how the matchmaking actually works, and what contractors want out of the situation.

So if I were advising the Aldermen, I think I'd suggest a canvassing of the affected parties first. If that study were to disclose, for example, that there are reasons why the men seeking work would be afraid of making use of a town-provided pick-up spot, that would be a helpful thing to know.

That is a REALLY good point Eric. Input from people who want to be hired and those that do the hiring would be essential.

It's not just contractors using them.

I used to live on that exact corner for 3 years. People would s--- and p--- on my lawn in broad daylight, sell drugs, and prostitutes worked that corner as well. I walked my dog 3 times a day or more on the strip of land between that corner on Neville Road (a stones throw away) and I always carried a 5-cell maglight with me to pop someone in the head in case I needed it. Drug Dealers and purse stealers would always climb over the fence between Davie and the apartment complex on the other side (which also shares the corner in question). I talked to the mayor of carrboro at the time and he referred me to a lady police officer, I can't remember her name, who said they would increase patrols. I finally decided to move away after people would often sit in their cars at all hours of the night across from my house. That street is slowly changing for the better, I think, but that corner was definitely a source of concern 4 years ago when I lived there. People would drink there all day but what bothered me about the workers being picked up there is that large landscaping trucks or vehicles pulling large trailers (or just passenger cars, too) would turn into Davie road and just stop in the roadway and get mobbed by people looking for work. It was frustrating on my bike or in a car when a vehicle would be turning and just slam on the brakes as soon as they turned into the road. If nothing else, it creates a traffic and pedestrian hazard to have that be a pickup spot.


It is partly about immigration. What's the point in opening the door if we do not make our guests feel welcome when the get here? And that means, at least to some extent, making them feel welcome on their terms.

It is, however, mostly about true progressive freedom and democracy in the municipality of Carrboro.

I felt unsafe when I lived at Abbey Court in 2005. But sometimes, there are problems to which there are not always ideal solutions. It is a question of balance - as you recognized in your question in uploadng this post ("...good public safety or an encroachment on civil rights?").

For myself, I take the view that real progressive freedom and democracy is often untidy. A little messy. Even unsafe, on occasion. But it is better than the alternative, when over-order can lead to so many of the political and social problems we experienced in the twentieth century.

The answer is not necessarily to over-organize. I wonder, sometimes, if we are not too ready in Carrboro to find an 'ism' or an 'ity' in response to what we see as a problem, rather than taking into account their consequence for ordinary, working folk.

Carrboro is not a big social experiment. It is a wonderful home to all sorts of people, of diverse backgrounds and opinions, and some people people who are social and some who are less social. That's the way humanity is. You deal with the unsocial by enforcing existing laws, not coming up with new ones.

So, with respect, I am offering what I see as a useful solution to the problem: enforce the laws that exist, but beyind that, let freedom and enterprise prevail - where it is happening at the moment.

And Brian, thank you for your comments, which I take in the best spirit. I think we are on the same page in wishing to see the welcome on the base of the Statue of Liberty as a living expression of the American Dream. We may disagree on how that is to be interpreted. But that's American, too!

Now Ruby, you may not like what I have just proposed as my...what?...laid-back?...liberal/libertarian/progressive?...solution. But that's the wonderful thing about a truly progressive municipality - there can be a broad diversity of opinion, and we then trust ordinary people to make up their own minds about what they want to accept.

I would rather focus on other issues that abound in that corner of Carrboro, like what we can do to make available to low-income, working folk genuinely affordable and safe rental property?

And Eric, you stole the next words out of my mouth: let's include everyone in the discussion. Brian, I don't want to polarize, but I have to say, ever so gently, that in my short but happy time in Carrboro, I have wondered if some are not too ready to assume that they know what is best for working people. Simple antidote, and, Eric, you got it: ask people what they want - and then listen to their answers!

I just finished watching the alderman meeting Kirk mentions above. It appears the ideas I describe above where on the alderman's minds too. They deserve credit for these ideas. I am pleased to see there thoughtful deliberation.

Specifically Dan Coleman described a solution very similar to one I suggested. Good to see Randee Haven-O'Donnell support it too. John Herrera's comments about the work of El Centro is very valuable too. Kudos to the board of Alderman for their forward thinking and sincere work for our community.

There are some problems with the suggestions of permits, etc.
The reason this congregation spot is across the street from Abbey Court is probably because most of these men live there. They won't want to walk to the town commons.

If people are forced to get permits for day laborers at the town commons, there will quickly rise up a "black market" somewhere else for those who 1.) don't have money to get a permit or just don't want to pay, 2.) don't plan things ahead of time or don't have time to get a permit. Having to get a permit to hire someone to paint your house is pretty Big Brother-ish, also. Where does it stop? Can you hire your son's friend for the day without getting a permit? I doubt any of these workers would support those who hire them having to get a permit to do so.

Getting a permit would not have prevented the mural being painted over, because homeless people (as were hired in that case) are probably not going to turn down a quick day job, even if the person hiring them doesn't have a permit. They most likely would have done that anyway, permit or not.

Having the police "help people get jobs" sure sounds like a city-run staffing service. I think the police have better things to attend to, rapes and domestic violence incidents being some of them.

Basically, there are already laws on the books against public urination, public intoxication, prostitution, and harassment. Before issuing new laws, let's enforce the ones already on the books and arrest those who are violating them. If people on the corner are being arrested for committing these crimes, the others will be less likely to do them as well. To try to make an anti-loitering policy is being lazy (you can then just arrest anyone standing on that corner rather than actual police work) and would just cause them to congregate elsewhere during the day.

The Board of Aldermen held its public hearing this evening on the proposed "lingering" ordinance for the Jones Ferry-Davie intersection. Complete agenda materials are available online.

Having arrived a few minutes late, I may have missed some of the comments. For example, I believe that James Harris, the town's director of community and economic development, made a presentation at the beginning of the session.

About half a dozen residents spoke. Their comments included (a) appropriate frustration about the illegal behavior occurring at the intersection; (b) some concern about the pace of the town's process for dealing with the problem; and (c) both outright support for the proposed ordinance and questions about whether the ordinance would be effective. A couple of speakers also spoke about the need to protect and serve the interests of the day laborers who use the location.

My likely inadequate roundup of comments from the aldermen, which others should correct as needed:

Dan Coleman, referring to a memo from the ACLU, asked the town attorney to explore the implications of previous court cases for the proposed ordinance. He referred specifically to statements on "the freedom to loiter for innocent purposes" and "an individual's decision to remain in a public place of his choice" as evoked by Chicago v Morales and Kent v Dulles. He also asked the town manager to consider potential transitional locations for a day-laborer site that would better serve the community.

Randee Haven-O'Donnell mentioned the work that the town has been doing with Latino and Hispanic community leaders. She noted that contractors (and workers?) would likely resist a less accessible pick-up location.

Alex Zaffron stated that consideration of the ordinance to deal with problematic behavior at the intersection is distinct from whatever considerations the board may undertake about a new pick-up location for day laborers.

One or two of the aldermen -- I can't remember who -- asked the chief of police to comment on discussions between the police department and the Kangaroo convenience store management. Chief Hutchison said that the store management has been "very responsive." She said that on some issues, such as the sale of alcohol to underage customers, the store was performing better than some other stores in town.

The board voted unanimously to refer all of these matters to staff and to place the item on the agenda for the next regular business meeting. I assume they'll make a decision about the ordinance at that time.


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