Group to seek removal of Annapolis loitering bill sponsor

Measure seen as unfair to African-Americans

May 18, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Protesters against an anti-loitering bill that some say unfairly targets African-Americans decided last night to seek the removal of the Annapolis alderman who crafted the proposal.

The group will attempt to gather enough signatures to force a special election midway through the term of Alderman Herbert H. McMillan, a Republican.

The 35 protesters -- including representatives from the Anne Arundel County chapter of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, the Maryland Forum of African-American Leaders and the United Black Clergy -- set up a committee to circulate petitions to recall McMillan, who represents the 5th Ward.

Community leaders urged protesters to call the mayor's office to oppose the bill. They also formed a committee to gather signatures from the 30 percent of Ward 5 needed to bring about an election to decide if McMillan should remain on the city council.

The protesters gathered in the dining hall of Asbury United Methodist Church to speak against McMillan's bill, which would give police the power to arrest loiterers suspected of engaging in drug activity, even if the loitering occurred on private property that was open to the public.

The American Civil Liberties Union and black community leaders have spoken out against the bill since it was introduced last week, saying police officers would use it to harass blacks who stand around chatting.

"If the majority of the voters in his district are African-American and if they feel that this is something that is very painful for them, it may be possible to institute a recall," said Leonard A. Blackshear, a longtime black community leader in Annapolis. "This is America. There is a political process."

McMillan, who could not be reached for comment last night, has said his bill would help his black constituents.

His proposed legislation would enable officers to make arrests on street corners in public housing communities, which now are off-limits because they are the property of the Annapolis Housing Authority, a private entity.

The first-term alderman said last week that he drew up the bill after hearing complaints from frustrated public housing residents and neighborhood watch block captains.

"I don't have someone selling drugs outside my house, but a lot of people in my ward do, and this helps them," McMillan said. "Doing nothing to stop it because some [drug dealers] are in African-American neighborhoods and my own white neighborhood is safe would be racist."

ACLU staff counsel Dwight Sullivan, who attended the meeting, said the bill probably would be enforced in a racist manner.

"What we're going to have here is the offense `loitering while black,' " said Sullivan. "Now in Annapolis, we have a lot of people who stand around in public places and conduct business. They're called lobbyists. But this bill is not going to target them. We're going to give [police] discretion, and discretion equals discrimination."

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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