On Thursday, January 25, 2018, the DC Council held a hearing for Bill 22-189, the “Drug-Related Nuisance Abatement Amendment Act of 2017.” This bill is intended to bring civil penalties “against an owner or a tenant, or both, for a property alleged to be a drug-, firearm-, and prostitution-related nuisance, and to establish a civil penalty for a defendant found to have knowingly conducted, maintained, aided, abetted, or permitted a drug-, firearm-, and prostitution-related nuisance.”
No Justice No Pride, Black Lives Matter DC, HIPS, Stop Police Terror, BYP100 DC, Trans United, CASS (Collective Action for Safe Spaces), and SURJ DC are collectives that oppose this bill and attended the bill’s hearing. Policy co-chair Brooke Butler (pictured in the feature image) testified, and the testimony is below.
Chairperson and members of the committee, my name is Brooke Butler and I am a Ward 5 resident and an organizer with BYP100. BYP100, or Black Youth Project 100, is a national collective of young Black activists fighting for Black liberation. We believe in fighting for the social, economic, and political liberation of all Black people and all oppressed people.
BYP100 is an active member within the Sex Workers Advocacy Coalition (SWAC), a group of organizations and individuals who are pushing for a human rights approach to sex work and calling for the District of Columbia to fully decriminalize sex work. This Amendment Act is directly contrary to our goals because it targets sex workers, many of whom are poor, immigrant, trans, gender nonconforming, and people of color. We are only as strong as our most vulnerable population and creating more financial barriers for these populations will not curb crime, harm, or conflict within DC communities. In fact, studies show that criminalizing already marginalized communities make them more susceptible to violence.
In 2013, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee found that nearly 17% of the adult Black population in DC had been arrested, while about 2% of the adult white population had. We only need to look at the current ramifications of disproportionate targeting, arrests, and incarceration, to see that this bill would most certainly add undue harm to Black, LGBTQ, low-income communities because they are the most likely to be “alleged” criminal people. This is especially true when we look at nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession and prostitution.
According to Washington City Paper, “In most cases, D.C. police officers will arrest sex workers—particularly trans sex workers—for the solicitation of sex and not prostitution itself, likely because in street-level prostitution cases it’s easier to collect evidence for solicitation. In 2017, 87 percent of prostitution-related arrests have been solicitation charges, per Metropolitan Police Department data.”
Time and time again, DC residents have pleaded with the DC government to curb homelessness and push for more comprehensive policies that target job growth, re-entry services, maternal health, mental health, and housing. At a time where DC is becoming a maternal health desert and poor women, trans, and gender non-conforming folks have less access to reproductive care, it is unfortunate that the city would propose an increase in civil penalties for those who are most impacted.
Just last year, Councilmember McDuffie, along with his colleagues voted for the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act which shifts our age-old punitive and carceral approach to a public health approach when dealing with “criminal activity.” The NEAR Act recognized that incarceration is not a solution to poverty, mental health crises, and other environmental factors that impact how people navigate in public and private spaces. As an abolitionist organization, we push for needs-based assessments and resources that get to the root causes of “criminal activity,” and push for the district to continue to move toward decarceration and decriminalization.
Unfortunately, Bill 22-189, the “Drug-Related Nuisance Abatement Amendment Act of 2017,” would do the complete opposite and continue putting those who are experiencing financial hardship further into poverty. While civil fines may be a step away from criminal prosecution, one fine can completely drive someone into debt and put them into contact with law enforcement and criminal prosecution. This is not the way forward in the District. We need to approach “criminal activity” from a place of compassion, empathy, and a holistic human rights framework.
So we urge you to not pass this bill and restore the dignity and opportunities to marginalized communities by investing in structures that allow our community to thrive and not be further criminalized by an unjust system. Choose to be among the history-makers who see the inherent value and humanity in DC residents and do not pass the “Drug-Related Nuisance Abatement Amendment Act of 2017.”
— testimony given by Brooke Butler, BYP100 DC policy co-chair