Crackdown: Charlotte reinstates penalties for these six public behaviors

Charlotte City Council meeting Feb. 12, 2024 Source: CLT YouTube

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  • Charlotte's newly re-enacted criminal penalties include solicitation from median strip, open containers, prohibition of urination on certain property, and behavior related to sleeping in city parks.

Six newly re-enacted criminal penalties in the Charlotte City Code which were up for consideration in a recent City Council meeting have now gone into effect.

The re-criminalized ordinances include penalties for solicitation from street or median strip, trespassing on motor vehicle, open containers, prohibition of urination and defecation on certain property, masturbation in public, and behavior related to sleeping in city parks.

During the Feb. 12 meeting, City Councilman Tariq Bokhari made a proposal to re-criminalize all eight of the ordinances up for discussion on the agenda, but he recognized that some council members were uncomfortable with the criminalization of the ordinances regarding unauthorized persons on parking lots and loitering for the purpose of engaging in drug related activity. Bokhari said one option which could be used to better address violation of the ordinances and aid homeless individuals is through the use of a homelessness court option.

“I hope that we find additional ordinances after today that can push us more down the path of ensuring the folks who are on the streets, who are either offending certain ordinances that we have or simply are on the streets for other reasons, both for their own health and for the broader health of our community, are brought to facilities that can help them,” he said. “I hope that we put just as much emphasis on funding all of the great programs for the wraparound services that they ultimately need once they are brought there. After many conversations in the community, I think the glue that binds things together and things that we’ve seen work in other cities is us connecting a homeless court. This homeless court offers this amazing opportunity. It’s populated and staffed by people that are closest to the issue in the community. It serves not as a court to criminalize things, but as a mechanism to route folks to the true wraparound services they need, so that we get focused ultimately on making sure they have the resources they need.”

Prior to the vote, public comment was heard from various members of the Charlotte community which included church leaders, public officials, and uptown residents.

One uptown resident of Charlotte’s Fourth Ward encouraged the council to adopt the criminal enforcement penalties for three of the ordinances.

“I have lived in Fourth Ward for almost 24 years,” she said. “I chose to live in uptown for the culture, walkability, diversity, and vibrancy. I live in a condo with a balcony overlooking the main fountain in Fourth Ward park. We chose to live in this place knowing we would live across the street from subsidized housing and on a park that includes unhoused folks enjoying the park on the benches just like everyone else does. That has not changed. Here is what is new: The frequent drinking and drug use in the park, loud arguments and violence resulting from the drinking, being flashed by people urinating right beneath my balcony, staying up all night long twice, worrying about my dog who ate human feces containing drugs powerful enough to make her unable to hold her head still or walk. It was terrifying. I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt had that been my toddler granddaughter who had come into contact with drugs or human feces which might contain drugs.”

She also drew attention to the issue of unruly, frequent alcohol consumption in the park, and stated that the city needs to equip itself with better tools in order to rectify the problem.

“I have watched many people gather on the park benches to drink for hours, consuming six packs or more of beer and liquor,” she added. “Those people I have seen are rarely unhoused folks. They are well dressed and carry no belongings. These are not the folks sleeping in the park. Although I am passionately committed to living in uptown Charlotte, I am very worried that we are becoming known as an unclean, unsafe place to live. We need to have the tools to keep our beautiful uptown a desirable place to live and work. I encourage you to re-enact the ordinances against open containers and public beer and wine consumption, masturbation in public, and urination and defecation on certain property.”

Elizabeth Trosch, who serves as the Chief District Judge for Mecklenburg County’s 26th judicial district, argued against the criminalization penalties by placing emphasis on assisting Charlotte’s homeless population in other ways, through the use of better resources.

“These ordinances are classified as class 3 misdemeanors under North Carolina law,” said Trosch. “They are punishable by a fine. And unless there’s a significant criminal history, they are not even punishable by incarceration. Essentially implementing criminalization of these ordinances would result in people being arrested by police officers, who will spend hours in our detention center to see a magistrate to demonstrate probable cause. They’ll sit in jail until they see a judge the next day who will more than likely in most cases release that individual more vulnerable, back into the same situation in our community.”

Trosch also pushed back on Bokhari’s recommendation of assisting the homeless via use of a homeless court.

“Now I hear council member Bokhari talk about a homelessness court,” she said. “We have six recovery courts here in Mecklenburg County, and they are very much homelessness courts. They are courts where we are interacting with people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system because of conduct associated with addiction, mental illness and homelessness. We face the same problem that you face. We face the same problem that police officers responding to these incidents in our community face. These are people who need resources.”

In a 7-3 vote, the City Council ultimately approved the restoration of criminal penalties for six of the eight ordinances. Criminal penalties were not restored for the ordinances related to unauthorized people in parking lots and loitering for the purposes of engaging in drug activity.