Reason Roundup

'Should Police Arrest Sex Workers for Standing Around?' No, of Course Not.

Plus: Censorship in New York, how zoning laws are creating a housing crisis, and more...


"Should police arrest sex workers for standing around?" the Los Angeles Times asked yesterday, calling the matter a "thorny question." But this shouldn't be a difficult question at all (only "misogynists and authoritarians" could think it is, Twitter user @seran72 suggests). Sex workers aren't second-class citizens, and they deserve the right to exist in public spaces as much as anyone else does. What's more, vague and open-ended "loitering for prostitution" laws like the one in question are easily used by police for harassment, since they allow arrest merely for existing outside when authorities think you shouldn't.

Thankfully, the tide is starting to turn against such laws, which opponents say are particularly dangerous to transgender women and people of color. (Many refer to them as "walking while trans" laws.) Laws like these don't require any prostitution or even solicitation to prostitution to take place, merely being out in public in a way that authorities determine reflects an intent to sell sex. With such subjective criteria, it's easy to see how they might be abused or used in discriminatory ways.

Last February, New York state repealed its "loitering for the purposes of prostitution" statute. Now California may do the same. A bill to repeal California's law against "loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense" passed the legislature last September and awaits Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's approval or rejection.

But opponents of the repeal rely on myths, scare tactics, and paternalism to justify the law. Trotting out the evidence-free assertion that most people selling sex are actually victims being forced into it, they claim that arresting sex workers is the only way to save them—never mind the trauma that can come from arrest, the potential for police abuse, the danger inherent in jails (especially during a pandemic), or the fact that saddling someone with court fees and a criminal record is hardly the basis for expanded opportunities.

The Times article on California efforts to repeal its prostitution loitering law repeats these prohibitionist tropes, after opening with the lurid, lazy, and melodramatic prose so typical of media about sex workers. ("Cold blue light from a convenience store sign spilled onto Star and Dream, not their real names, as they stood on a dark sidewalk in the Mission District, working to sell sex to johns. In a scene repeated daily on dozens of similar 'tracks' across the state, men in cars rolled slowly by the women, who are just past their teenage years but looked young enough to be on their way to a high school dance.")

The sex workers in the article note that the loitering law doesn't help them and is instead used by police to harass them. "I've gotten tickets for just like standing right here," one says. Police "are always looking for a reason to mess with me," says another.

But the Times gives equal space to the voices of people who oppose prostitution and any attempts to decriminalize it, including a former prosecutor who has an upcoming book about her (unsuccessful and unconstitutional) prosecution of the founders of Backpage. And, inexplicably, the article frames the fight over loitering laws as pitting "sex workers against other sex workers and trafficking survivors," despite the fact that no sex workers against repeal are actually quoted and there's ample research suggesting that decriminalization can reduce sex trafficking and keep everyone involved safer.

The bottom line, as San Francisco sex worker Lisseth Sánchez tells the Times, is that "it is absolutely not necessary to arrest people for their own good."


New York lawmaker pushes unconstitutional infringement on social-media speech. Democrats and Republicans are mad at Section 230—the federal communications law that, among other things, shields social media companies from some legal liability for user-generated posts—"because they both want to control the internet in a manner that helps 'their team,'" suggests Mike Masnick at Techdirt. (That's what we've said, too!) "But both approaches involve unconstitutional desires to interfere with 1st Amendment rights. For Republicans, it's often the compelled hosting of speech, and for Democrats, it's often the compelled deletion of speech. Both of those are unconstitutional."

Republicans have passed blatantly unconstitutional social media laws in Texas and Florida. Now Democrats want in on the game in California and New York.

New York state Senator Brad Hoylman "has proudly introduced a hellishly unconstitutional social media bill," notes Techdirt:

Hoylman announces in his press release that the bill will 'hold tech companies accountable for promoting vaccine misinformation and hate speech.' Have you noticed the problem with the bill already? I knew you could. Whether we like it or not, the 1st Amendment protects both vaccine misinformation and hate speech. It is unconstitutional to punish anyone for that speech, and it's even more ridiculous to punish websites that host that content, but had nothing to do with the creation of it.

More details about the bill here.


"Home prices today are 41% higher than the peak of the housing bubble in 2006," notes Michael Hendrix, the Manhattan Institute's director of state and local policy, at Persuasion. Over that same period, median incomes went up just 8.8 percent. What to do?

Get rid of restrictive zoning laws, Hendrix argues:

Pro-housing advocates argue that home prices are artificially high because the supply of homes is dangerously low, thanks to red tape and costly bureaucracy. Less supply and rising demand mean higher prices—it's Economics 101. Indeed, America is nearly 4 million homes short of demand. Zoning rules carve up cities and towns with top-down dictates on what property owners can do with their own land, like mandates for single-family homes on enormous lots with lots of required parking.

"It is illegal on 75% of the residential land in many American cities to build anything other than a detached single-family home," observes The New York Times's Emily Badger. …

The price of housing used to march in lockstep with the cost of construction—pay more and you get a better house. But starting in the 1970s, right when zoning began spreading nationwide, those two prices diverged, with home prices soaring while building costs remained stable. That gap is like a "zoning tax" that falls hardest on the poorest Americans and raises the price of entry to cities with the most jobs and opportunity. Today's housing crisis is the American Dream turned nightmare.


• COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have reached a new peak that's more than double the previous peak:

• Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) is threatening to change Senate rules if Republicans block a vote on Democrats' voting bill. "The weaponization of rules once meant to short-circuit obstruction have been hijacked to guarantee obstruction," he suggested yesterday in a Dear Colleague letter. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called it a "rash, partisan power grab."

• "More Border Patrol Agents died in the line of duty during 2021 than in any other time since the agency's inception," reported Breitbart. Left out of the fearmongering tweet, and the headline about a "historic level of line-of-duty deaths," is that 13 of the 15 agents died due to COVID-19.

• The democracy-is-ending industrial complex churns on…

• A victory for Libertarian Party members in Maine, where a federal judge ruled that "Libertarians can nominate candidates under the party banner for the 2022 election, regardless whether their numbers reach the minimum threshold under state law."

• A privacy lawsuit against Amazon can continue. " Inc failed to persuade an Illinois federal judge to toss a lawsuit accusing the company of unlawfully collecting 'facial geometry' scans of employees at fulfillment warehouses as part of COVID-19 wellness checks," notes Reuters. "U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland in Chicago declined to dismiss the proposed class action on Monday, in which a former employee alleged the e-commerce company collected his facial and other data without proper consent under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA)."

• Department of prohibition kills:

• COVID is ravaging city jails again. In New York City, the infection rate "has hit a staggering new high – with almost 37% of prisoners recently tested for the virus coming back positive," the New York Daily News reports. "The new numbers — measuring a seven-day test positivity through Sunday — come two weeks after the outgoing city jails commissioner warned of a 'crisis level' of COVID cases bearing down on the population at the troubled Rikers Island complex."

• Are strip club dancers employees or independent contractors? A growing number of lawsuits asks this question. "Nationwide, federal court records show that more than two dozen recent lawsuits have targeted the corporate owners of Jaguars: RCI Hospitality Holdings, a for-profit corporation based in Houston that comprises dozens of strip clubs and topless clubs marketed under various brand names," reports the Texas Observer.

• The fight over Biden's Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission nominations continues.