“Intimidating?” – A third try emerges at a street harassment law


A third version of a proposed street harassment law emerged from a city council committee today.

The full council will consider it Thursday after the public safety committee today changed a version the full council amended last week.

The dispute is essentially over one word in the law intended to protect bicyclists, pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, blind people and their guide dogs.

The original version approved last week by the public safety committee forbid acts with the purpose of “frightening” or injuring such people or dogs.

At the full council last week, Councilman Ed Ford led a successful effort to change “frightening” to “threatening.”

The proposed amended law went back to the public safety committee, which today changed “threatening” to “intimidating.”

Councilman John Sharp, committee chair, said “intimidating” has been upheld by courts.

Ford had insisted on “threatening” last week partly because he said courts had upheld that language but not “frightening.”

The proposed law forbids sounding a horn or shouting or otherwise directing loud noises at those on the street, and Ford was concerned motorists could be cited for honking at jaywalkers or others behaving recklessly.

He was also concerned about violating free speech rights by forbidding such honking.

The ordinance will not stop lewd comments because of free speech rights, but it also forbids throwing things at people or service dogs, driving in their direction or conduct that creates a risk of serious physical injury.

Sarah Rossi, an ACLU director, told the committee today it takes no position on the ordinance but she she suggested removing the word “intimidating.”

Still, she said, “intimidating” is better than “frightening.”

If the council approves, Kansas City will join Independence, Columbia and St. Louis in adopting such a law.

BikeWalkKC, the Whole Person, MainCor, the city health department, AARP and other groups have supported it.

A BikeWalk survey found that two thirds of responders said harassment was a barrier to riding a bike or walking.

It also found that 37 percent were harassed downtown and 17 percent in Midtown.

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