Plan to keep strangers out of city alleys runs into bump

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A proposed ordinance that would restrict who could amble down Minneapolis city alleys has run into fierce opposition from garden-lovers and civil liberties advocates at City Hall who are hoping to scuttle the plan at next week’s City Council meeting.

The ordinance, introduced by Sixth Ward Council Member Robert Lilligren, would prohibit anyone from walking down an alley that does not border their own property. Those found trespassing could be issued a ticket and fined.

Lilligren said the idea arose out of conversations with residents of the Stevens Square Neighborhood and with police in his ward, which includes some of the more troubled areas of the city. “They’re looking for another tool to help keep people safe,” he explained.

It is already against the law to drive down an alley unless its connected to your own home, Lilligren noted. This new ordinance would simply expand on that theme. “It’s consistent with other traffic regulations,” he said. “If alleys were meant for pedestrians, they’d have sidewalks.”

The ordinance would not effect garage sales and other routine activities carried out in city alleyways, Lilligren said. It would simply extend an already accepted view that these are not public thoroughfares.

But critics, like Second Ward Council Member Cam Gordon, argue that the ordinance sends the wrong message for an otherwise pedestrian-friendly city, criminalizes harmless behavior, and does little to address public safety issues.

“This kind of prohibition is unprecedented in the United States,” Gordon said in a statement released from his office on Tuesday. “It may well bring us closer to a privatized, suburbanized city and not towards the safe, pedestrian-friendly community of close-knit, caring neighborhoods that so many of us want Minneapolis to be.”

And while passing such a law will make it seem like the city is doing something to combat crime, Gordon added, the ordinance will most often be enforced against the homeless, the poor, and people with mental illnesses. “We should not willfully blind ourselves to this reality,” he said.

Gordon said he was also concerned that the ordinance would essentially require residents to always have some form of identification available, as the police need only “articulable suspicion” to ask someone in an alley for proof of their address. “I believe that we should not move in the direction of requiring Minneapolis residents to carry identification or proof of address at all times,” he said.

Combined with concerns from city garden lovers, especially those in relatively crime-free areas of Southwest Minneapolis, Gordon’s opposition may be enough to derail the ordinance, which the full council is scheduled to take up at its September 1 meeting.

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