by Joe Schwartz
The Carrboro Board of Alderman voted unanimously to end the town’s anti-lingering ordinance Tuesday, ending a four-year old rule that restricting anyone from standing or sitting at the corner of Jones Ferry and Davie roads between 11 a.m. and 5 a.m.
The ordinance, passed in 2007, applied to the corner where Latino day laborers congregate to seek work. Neighbors complained that men, most who were not day laborers, would hang out there, drink and create trash.
Chris Brook, a staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who helped campaign to end the ordinance and challenge its legality, called it “a request for dignity” from day laborers.
“Folks who were impacted by this ordinance had their voice heard,” he said. “Their representatives heard them and responded. It’s always exciting to see democracy work in the way it should.”
Workers addressed the board directly and told them the ordinance made it even more challenging to find work in a down economy.
“Many of them, if they are able to get a job three times a week, that will be a successful week,” said Rafael Gallegos, associate director at the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center, an advocate for workers who helped translate their speeches to the board.
“Today we have the opportunity to provide much needed assistance to those who at the bottom of the economic and social ladder.”
Alderman-elect Michelle Johnson, who said during the campaign that she opposed the ordinance, also implored the board to act.
“For a community that’s focused on progressive thinking and action, we must do better,” she said.
Aldermen who had supported the ordinance in 2007, mainly because of reports of women being sexually harassed as they walked by the corner, supported rescinding it on the condition that the town both consider funding a community resource person to help workers on the corner and that the town look at strengthening its anti-harassment speech rules and make lewd speech directed a women hate speech.
They also want to find space for a day laborer center.
“I’ve always felt that this ordinance was not a complete solution to the problem,” Mayor Mark Chilton said. “I think the best solution is going to be to have at some level a more formal day labor market. … This board is prepared at last to put some money into making that happen.”
Carrboro resident Steve Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, ate his lunch at the corner, in violation of the ordinance, for almost a month to highlight the injustice of the rule.
No one came by to stop him, which he said showed that the ordinance was being unevenly enforced.
“The lesson to take away from this experience is that good, nonviolent old-fashioned community organizing works wonders,” Dear said. “I’m just grateful that I was able to participate in the coalition of all these people.”
Alderman Joal Hall Broun, who will complete her service next month, said end of the ordinance creates a new challenge.
“Next year, about January 2013, I'm going to ask the question has the quality of life for the neighborhood adjacent to this corner improved or decreased, and I want everybody who is in this room, if they are living, to come back and respond to that,” she said.