The Ashland City Council passed a controversial ordinance Tuesday night that opponents fear will criminalize homeless people and allow police racial profiling.
Those protestors lined outside the Ashland council chambers to voice their concerns on what they call the “stop and identify” ordinance, which allows police to arrest someone who they suspect of breaking city rules if they don’t provide their name and date of birth.
But those protestors were barred from public comment because the council had begun deliberating the ordinance at its last meeting in June before it had to adjourn due to time limits. Ashland’s city charters say that the council will no longer accept public comment after it enters deliberation.
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara says Ordinance 3176 is necessary because people are increasingly refusing to provide their names. Without that information, officers can’t issue citations to people who break city rules, like littering or sleeping on sidewalks.
Beaverton has had a similar ordinance since the 1980s. Still, civil rights attorneys say it’s now problematic because of a 2017 Oregon Supreme Court ruling, which found that “passive resistance” isn’t a crime. That means people are allowed to ignore a police officer’s requests if they’re not suspected of committing a misdemeanor or a felony.
Some Ashland councilors say that ruling failed to consider city violations, which aren’t technically crimes. City police can’t arrest someone for a city violation; instead, they can issue citations.
With the passage of the new ordinance, if someone in Ashland city limits refuses to provide their name or birth date to a police officer who suspects them of violating a city rule, they could be charged with a misdemeanor and face about a month in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines.
Councilor Julie Akins says she understands why police are concerned about their inability to issue citations to people who refuse to give their names, “but I don't want somebody to go to jail for 30 days for smoking where they shouldn’t.”
“It’s just overkill, and we don’t need it,” Akins said. “And there are too many people concerned about this to pass it the way it is.”
Some critics say the ordinance violates their right to remain silent. Councilor Stefani Seffinger said she disagrees with that argument.
“I think the right to remain silent relates to other issues than identifying who you are if you were observed to be committing a violation of an ordinance,” Seffinger said.
She added that she didn’t think it would criminalize minorities or homeless people.
Outside the city council chambers after the meeting, Jordan Marshall of Ashland said he’s concerned Ashland’s ordinance will allow police to bully LGBTQ people.
“There are some people in our society for whom giving their name will put them in danger,” Marshall said. “We don't know if that cop is a transphobic cop and learning that that person they’re talking to is trans will cause them to be violent. We never know that until the violence is committed.”
Several civil rights attorneys have voiced their concerns about Ashland’s ordinance, but they wouldn't say if they would challenge it in court.