On election day several libertarian activists visited the city of Camden to protest the police use of the state loitering with intent laws.
The NJ Libertarian Party's battle against loitering laws started some time ago. In 1979 the state enacted a uniform code of criminal conduct. Prior to 1979 much criminal law in NJ consisted of a patchwork of municipal regulations. The 1979 law was intended to have uniformity in law across the state. The 1970 Uniform Code of Conduct specifically excluded loitering as a valid offense. In 1982 in the case of State V. Crawley the courts found that local loitering ordinances are indeed invalid. So sometime in 2007 we formed a committee to identify invalid local loitering and nuisance laws and to have them overturned.
Mostly due to the hard work of the chairman of the Preempted Ordinance Project, John Paff, we have had loitering ordinances overturned in 32 towns. Most often we accomplish this with a simple letter to the township attorney noting the illegality of their ordinance. (they can be read about at http://njlp.org/loitering)
As a result of recent publicity over two towns repealing their loitering ordinance, we received several complaints of individuals being charged with "Loitering with intent" in Camden.
In 1991 the state passed two separate laws, one against loitering with the purpose of buying, selling, or using a controlled substance and the other against loitering with the intent of engaging in prostitution.
These laws are being used in Camden to crackdown on just about anyone that the police decide they don't like. The law specifically states that simply wandering alone is not sufficient. There must be evidence of engaging in one of the prohibited activities. However the laws give vague examples of conduct that could be deemed evidence like beckoning to people, passing objects back and forth, and repeatedly attempting to stop passer-bys and engage them in conversation.
When we were in Camden distributing fliers (and beckoning to passer-bys) we found the residents there to be living in a complete police state. Mostly everyone we met had either been charged with loitering with intent or had close relatives or friends who had been charged. The loitering charges carry a fine of up to $1,000 dollars. We found several people who were fined between $700-$800. Several others had the charges thrown out in court, but were still charged $150 by their public defender.
I witnessed one confrontation between the police and a young man who had stopped on the street to smoke a cigarette. He had been surrounded by three officers. I approached with a camcorder. A police officer approached me and I asked him if this was a loitering incident. He asked who I was and I told him I was there to speak out against the misuse of loitering ordinances and handed him a flyer. He then walked away. See the video for the rest of the confrontation. They soon left the young man alone. Looking back I wish I had gotten his badge number.
Camden is certainly crime and poverty ridden. The crime is a direct result of prohibition. I talked to several people who admitted to being addicted to drugs. They have nowhere to turn for help, the police are not helping them. Prohibition only makes it worse for them. Prohibition pushes them towards more dangerous and stronger drugs. We also met street vendors who complained of constantly getting harassed by the city for not having proper licensing. These vendors are trying to eke out a living selling products on the street, and not only are they harassed but their customers are harassed.
We have setup an email address for people to contact us over loitering abuses. If your town has a local ordinance law or if you know of police abusing citizens with these loitering laws, please let us know.