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Black homeless arrested more often for violating city ordinance


Critics say method to punish unhoused

The Los Angeles City Controller’s Office has released a new report that shows Black people were disproportionately arrested for violating a city ordinance that critics say is used to punish the unhoused.

Controller Kenneth Mejia released a detailed interactive map on June 22 that shows a breakdown of the arrests made under Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.18, which prohibits sitting, lying or storing items in the public right-of-way.

From Jan 2012 to May 2023, authorities arrested 36,807 people for violating the municipal code, according to Mejia’s office, citing data obtained from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Of those arrests, more than 42% were Black people, data shows. Recent U.S. Census data indicates Black or African-Americans make up less than 10% of the general population of Los Angeles.

LAMC 41.18 is a highly contentious section of the city’s municipal code, which prohibits the blocking of sidewalks or other public right-of-way areas. Opponents say it’s weaponized to crack down on homelessness and is used haphazardly as a tool to try and conceal signs of the homeless population.

Violations of the municipal code can lead to fines or or even jail time.

The majority of the arrests made during the 10-year and 5-month time frame cited by Mejia’s office were misdemeanors, which carry the possibility of a fine and up to six months in jail. Fines can reach a maximum of $2,500.

The Controller’s Office did note that the bulk of the arrests took place prior to a 2018 court case that barred cities from enforcing “anti-camping laws” unless the city can provide adequate shelter. Following that ruling, the average number of arrests made each year dropped to around 660, Mejia said.

Despite challenges and outcry from some members of the public regarding the city’s anti-camping policies, the Los Angeles City Council has taken steps to strengthen and even expand the existing laws.

Mejia was elected City Controller in November 2022 in a race in which he defeated then-city councilmember Paul Koretz. The longshot campaign was driven by an ambitious and unconventional social media campaign that saw the certified public accountant propelled into the public eye.

Backed by a progressive group of supporters, as part of his campaign, Mejia promised to take a deep look into the city’s expenses in search of waste and corruption.

Earlier this year, his office announced it would be auditing the LAPD’s use of helicopters to determine how much money was being spent on the program and whether or not the helicopters were a successful and efficient crime deterrent.