McMillan decries push for recall

Anti-loitering bill designed to help, not harass, he says

Foes `foster ignorance'

May 19, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Annapolis Alderman Herbert H. McMillan railed yesterday against opponents of his anti-loitering bill who want to oust him from office, saying they are falsely casting him as discriminating against his African-American constituents when he is trying to help them.

McMillan, a Republican who represents the predominantly black Ward 5, said the bill he introduced last week to give police officers the power to arrest loiterers engaging in drug activity on sidewalks in public housing communities is meant to help residents of those neighborhoods.

Current law prohibits officers from asking loiterers whom they suspect of drug activity to move along in those communities because public housing is the property of the Annapolis Housing Authority, a private entity.

Representatives from organizations such as the Anne Arundel County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the United Black Clergy and the Maryland Forum of African-American Leaders met with some Annapolis residents Monday night to protest the bill, terming it the "loitering while black" ordinance and saying it would result in random harassment of blacks by police officers.

They formed a committee to try to gather enough signatures from Ward 5 voters to force a recall election to decide McMillan's fate midway through his term.

McMillan asked why no one invited him to the meeting and why copies of his bill were not distributed to those present.

Some at the meeting asked to see a copy, but no one had brought one.

"I'm disappointed," McMillan said. "Did anyone even read the ordinance last night? It's specific. It's for loitering for the purpose of drug activity. I don't see how something that clear becomes a black and white issue. I guess it would be if they are insinuating that there's only a drug problem in African-American communities.

"They are trying to spin this to foster ignorance. They're not talking about the bill; they're talking about something it's not. If you really have the interests of these communities at heart, it would make sense to meet me and talk about some of these issues."

McMillan's bill has garnered support from several black leaders, including neighborhood watch block captains and Annapolis Housing Authority Director Patricia Croslan. Annapolis police spokesman Lt. Robert E. Beans has also supported the measure.

Ruby Blakeney, a Ward 5 resident who is heading the 12-member committee to oust McMillan, said many blacks feel the first-term alderman has slighted them in other instances, before the loitering bill was introduced. She pointed to his recent suggestion that funding for the Kunta Kinte Festival might be a place to cut the budget and his opposition last year to increased funding for Grandma's House, an after-school day-care facility in a Ward 5 public housing community.

"It just appears to everyone concerned that he is attacking the African-American community," said Blakeney, who is on the Kunta Kinte Festival board of directors. "People are realizing that they can't sit and hope that things are going to work out in their favor, that they must get together."

McMillan said yesterday that Grandma's House is underused and that he has also sought to cut funding for First Night Annapolis.

"In other words," he said, "I treat a predominantly white festival the same way."

For a recall election, Blakeney must gather signatures from 30 percent of the voters registered in Ward 5 for the 1997 general election, which means 752 names.

The city council would have to verify the names and then hold a special election for Ward 5 residents.

"To get someone out of office because they wanted to cut funding for your event is a pollution of the political process," McMillan said. "The way I'll fight it is, I'll continue to do what I've been doing."

Pub Date: 5/19/99

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