Understanding The Safer Streets for All Act & Racial Profiling in California

Street view of San Diego at night

Over the last few years, conversations around law enforcement and public safety have frequently centered on discriminatory profiling. As a prime example in California, the criminalization of loitering with intent to commit prostitution has disproportionately impacted communities of color, the LGBTQ, and transgender individuals. This unjustified practice has been used primarily as an instrument for harassment and racial profiling for decades.

To eliminate unsubstantiated interactions with the police, California’s Safer Streets for All Act seeks to prevent law enforcement officials from targeting people predicated on their ethnicity, gender, or the clothes they choose to wear. In this post, I will delve into this bill and assess its potential consequences regarding discrimination and unnecessary criminal convictions.

Overview of SB 357 – The Safer Streets for All Act

California Senate Bill 357 aims to eliminate discriminatory profiling and protect vulnerable communities from harassment and criminalization. One of the key benefits of this bill is that it prohibits unlawful arrests or harassment based on profession or dress. No longer can an individual be arrested simply for being near a particular location or for wearing clothing that law enforcement deems inappropriate.

By addressing these issues, the bill helps reduce the danger involved in sex work and to prevent sex trafficking. Perhaps the most critical aspect of the Safer Streets for All Act is that one will no longer be at risk of acquiring a criminal record for walking down the street or in public spaces. The bill prioritizes the safety and health of black, brown, transgender, and gender nonconforming individuals by providing them with more protection under the law.

Additionally, it enables individuals convicted of loitering with the intent to engage in sex work to clear their records. That provision is of the utmost importance since many people can not secure employment, obtain housing, or become legal immigrants due to this menial charge. Overall, California’s Safer Streets for All Act represents an important step toward ensuring equal protection under the law for all individuals.

History of Anti-Loitering Laws in California

Young woman walking down the sidewalk

To fully understand the importance of the Safer Streets for All Bill, you must understand the history of anti-loitering laws in California. Loitering laws have been in existence since the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Southern states created loitering and vagrancy laws that targeted Black Americans for incarceration and subjected them to convict leasing to private companies.

Until the recent passing of SB 357 by Gavin Newsome, these laws continued to criminalize people who took up public space during activities that weren’t considered “productive.” In California, Section 653.22 was enacted in 1995, making it a crime to loiter with intent to commit prostitution. During the 1990s, the bill was part of the get tough on crime movement that was popular with many people. Despite the support from the business community and more affluent citizens, it led to more brutality, harassment, and selective oppression of people of color, particularly youth and trans women. 

Unlike most American laws that necessitate a citizen commit an illegal act before they could be apprehended, loitering laws diabolically and categorically did not. However, the Safer Streets for All Act is a critical step towards prioritizing the safety and well-being of minorities, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals who have been and still are the primary target of police profiling. Ultimately, it’s vital to recognize our past when examining laws today like this one which works to eliminate archaic discriminatory profiling practices statewide—and even nationwide.

The Key Benefits of SB 357

The Safer Streets for All Act represents a significant milestone in the fight against human traffickers and the subsequent violence committed against sex workers. This piece of legislation has several key benefits that will make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable communities. One of the most important benefits is that survivors of sex trafficking can trust that filing a report will not result in an arrest or conviction. By developing an amicable relationship with sex workers, those currently walking the streets and survivors can feel safe coming forward to receive the support and assistance they need.

For decades, the belief behind the utilization of loitering laws has centered around eradicating human trafficking throughout the state and the nation. However, the fear associated with communicating with law enforcement empowers the trafficker to exert even more control over victims because they have nowhere else to turn. Whether the trafficker chooses to use physical violence, fraud, or verbal threats to coerce sex workers, they can remain in complete control because the victims know they will receive little to no protection from law enforcement.

Consequently, SB 357 exists to reverse discriminatory profiling and positively affect environments where sex trafficking is currently thriving and give law enforcement and aid workers more of an advantage when attempting to assist. Overall, SB 357 is essential to creating a more just and equitable society while drastically impacting the root causes of human trafficking.

Potential Impact on Communities Across California

California sheriff patrols local neighborhood

The Safer Streets for All Act is a game-changer regarding its potential to eliminate discriminatory profiling against sex workers and members of local communities across California. If implemented as intended, it will protect and keep individuals safe from harm, reduce arrest rates, and create a safe space. Not only will this act benefit marginalized individuals, but it will foster healthier communities as well. By removing prejudiced profiling, the act allows law enforcement to concentrate on detecting and prosecuting genuine sex traffickers rather than singling out defenseless persons based solely on their physical characteristics or profession.

The enactment of this legislation will also foster a significant reduction in the number of violent interactions between police officers and members of minority communities. Ordinary citizens can now move about freely without fear of being stopped, searched, or arrested because law enforcement suspects they are involved in sex work. Over time this will create an equitable society where everyone can feel safe and protected regardless of their background or circumstances.

Furthermore, increased communication between law enforcement and local citizens can help identify who the sex traffickers are and how they operate so those individuals can face justice. By working together, law enforcement agencies and neighborhood advocates can build trust and cooperation with the community, leading to better outcomes for everyone involved. As a result, there may eventually be a decline in the number of sex workers in the community, in addition to lower arrest rates and less intensive patrolling of minority communities.

Criticisms & Controversies Surrounding SB 357

The Safer Streets for All Act has faced criticisms and controversies since it became law on January 1, 2023. Some business owners are concerned about the potential for less patrolling and policing in their communities, which they believe could lead to higher crime rates and fewer customers.

Additionally, some citizens worry that prostitution will be harder to control and sex workers will become bolder at soliciting prostitution. Police officers have expressed concerns that the new law will turn minority communities into open-air sex markets and that they have less power to prevent the trafficking of children. Many believe that without profiling, it may be difficult to identify victims of sex trafficking, making it more challenging to rescue them.

However, despite these criticisms, the Safer Streets for All Act remains an integral step toward eliminating the discriminatory profiling of sex workers. It is important to remember that this bill is not just about changing laws; it’s about changing hearts and minds so everyone can feel safe and protected regardless of their background or living conditions. If law enforcement agencies and citizens in these areas decide to work together, the likelihood that this legislation will effectively reduce harassment will increase.

In conclusion, while I believe there are valid concerns surrounding SB 357’s impact on communities across California, we must remain focused on creating a safer environment for marginalized individuals. The sex workers subjected to this injustice deserve the right to live without fear of potential violence. If you feel there has been a violation of your rights, contact me today to schedule an appointment. 

About Michael MacNeil

Michael C. MacNeil is a San Diego Family Law and Criminal Defense attorney. With a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, MacNeil has a solid understanding of our justice system. As a member of the State Bar of California, MacNeal can practice before all courts in the state. MacNeil believes that the law should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. With over 20 years of experience, Michael C. MacNeil is passionate about the law and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you. Call Mr. MacNeil at 858-922-7098.