CINCINNATI (CN) - Cincinnati erected a barricade on a residential street - to fight prostitution - but the unconstitutional barrier has made life difficult for residents of the neighborhood, and denied them due process, residents claim in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff Vanessa Sparks, et al., sued Cincinnati on Monday in Federal Court.
The six plaintiffs, who live in the Mohawk area of West McMicken Avenue in Cincinnati, say that "on or about April 30, 2014, the defendant City of Cincinnati, by majority vote of Council, barricaded a section of West McMicken Avenue in the Mohawk area. The state purpose for barricading the street is to curb prostitution on the street."
The residents say that "any automobile that drives around the barricade to access the homes of the plaintiffs is subject to be stopped by the police and the occupants detained, questioned, [and] possibly searched. Friends, relatives and co-workers are afraid and intimidated from visiting or providing car pooling, due to fear of being stopped by police."
Public transportation has been rerouted around the barricade and fire and emergency services have also been affected by the city's decision, the residents say.
"Some residents work until after dark, and now must walk up to one-half mile from the nearest bus stop to their homes, which exposes the residents to an unnecessary hazard," the complaint states.
The residents say they are being "singled out and treated differently from other citizens of the City of Cincinnati simply because of where they live."
"Friends, relatives and co-workers of plaintiffs and others similarly situated are being detained by police without any reasonable or articulable suspicion of having committed any crime. Merely driving onto the street where plaintiffs live is deemed sufficient cause for police to detain, interrogate, and possibly search the individuals."
Al-Jazeera reported on May 6 this year that Cincinnati was trying to "shame away prostitution." The article describes other measures the city has taken to discourage prostitution, including "publish(ing) the names of the sex workers' clients" and prohibiting those clients "from entering parts of the city typically frequented by sex workers."
The article briefly mentions the barricade - which a councilwoman said "brought prostitution there to a standstill" - and reported that the city intended to leave it up for 90 days.
While several European countries - including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands - have legalized and regulated prostitution, Nevada remains the only U.S. state or territory that allows the exchange of money for sex.
And even in Nevada, only eight of the 16 counties have active brothels.
The debate on legalizing prostitution was reignited in San Francisco recently, after the FBI seized the sex service website myredbook.com.
Reuters reported this week that sex workers say that legalization "would be the best way to fight trafficking by ending the black market, and giving women the ability to report crimes against them."
Opponents of legalizing prostitution don't buy it. Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Casey Bates told Reuters that "it's easier for child traffickers to operate online, where a minor's age is not as obvious as on a street corner."
The plaintiffs in Cincinnati seek compensatory damages for violations of equal protection, and an injunction removing the barricade.
They are represented by James Bogen of Cincinnati.