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Report highlights racially disproportionate arrests under LA municipal code 41.18

Pictured are graphs and maps detailing the arrests made under municipal code 41.18, which criminalizes sitting, lying, sleeping or placing personal property in the public right of way in certain circumstances. (Meng Masroor/Graphics editor) Photo credit: Meng Masroor

By Leyton Breese

July 10, 2023 7:32 p.m.

A June report by the Los Angeles city controller highlights disproportionately high arrests of Black people in Los Angeles from 2012 to 2023 under a controversial homelessness law.

LA City Controller Kenneth Meija released a map showing significant racial disparity in arrests made under LA municipal code 41.18, which makes sitting, lying down and leaving personal property in various public areas illegal. Black people comprise only 8% of the LA population, but made up 43% of people arrested under the code, according to the map.

The report recorded that another 34% of those arrested were white, 21% were Hispanic/Latinx and 2% were of another racial background.

More than half of the arrests were made in Council District 14, which includes Skid Row and downtown LA, said Ashley Bennet, the director of homelessness in the city controller’s office, in an emailed statement. Other areas with high rates of arrests included District 11, which covers Venice, and District 13, which covers Hollywood, she added.

Jordan Wynne, a community activation specialist with community activism nonprofit United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said in an emailed statement that she believes anti-camping laws like 41.18 criminalize the right of people to exist in public.

“Homelessness cannot be criminalized out of existence,” Wynne said in the emailed statement. “Arresting someone due to violating an anti-camping law is an affront to the civil rights of an individual.”

Wynne added that she believes the arrests are made more damaging because the code allows officers to destroy personal property and encampments of people experiencing homelessness.

The ordinance was updated in 2021 to prohibit camping in sensitive locations, in the public right of way, or where it could create a hazard, said Hugh Esten, the director of communications for LA City Council District 5, in an emailed statement. The update also restricts camping that interferes with schools, daycare centers, parks, libraries and shelters, he added.

The ordinance also requires that the city offer people experiencing homelessness shelter before they are told to move, Esten said in the emailed statement.

“The purpose of the revised ordinance is public safety,” Esten said. “That means ensuring the safety of the unhoused as well as the rest of the community.”

However, the city does not provide people experiencing homelessness with sufficient alternatives in permanent, affordable housing, Wynne said in the emailed statement.

“41.18 arrests and sweeps are supposed to only be conducted if tangible housing options are available, but with Los Angeles way behind the ball on affordable housing construction, we know that this has not been the case, and that folks are being removed and accosted without any housing options,” Wynne said in the emailed statement.

Bennet said in an emailed statement that the city must do more to move people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing as a long-term solution.

Bennet suggested the solution that more housing needs to be made available exclusively to those who are acutely low-income and need support outside of the traditional rental market, where many people in LA have found themselves priced out of the housing market.

Wynne said that she believes deep-seated systemic classism and racism motivate many of the arrests under this code. She added that criminalization is an ineffective and racially inequitable mode of solving the homelessness crisis.

“Pushing people around this way is dehumanizing, and erodes trust between government institutions and people experiencing homelessness,” Wynne said. “This makes it even more challenging to recover folks experiencing long-term homelessness into safe and stable housing.”

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