Loitering bill needs to go

Anne Arundel: Absent greater support, Annapolis bill only raises animosity and legal questions.

June 21, 1999

BARRING a strong last-minute show of community support, the Annapolis City Council should table an anti-loitering bill proposed by Alderman Herbert H. McMillan.

Whether the proposal would succeed is uncertain because the Supreme Court this month struck down another anti-loitering law in Chicago and because cities, including Baltimore, are disbanding similar "drug-free" zones because they haven't been enforced or effective.

The only certainty about the McMillan legislation thus far is its ability to inflame racial animosity in the state capital. The most virulent opposition has come from leaders of the African-American community, despite claims by the alderman that black neighborhoods in the ward he represents would benefit most from his proposal. Block-watch captains in areas infested by drug dealing support the bill, but several organizations and officials believe it may make criminals of innocent bystanders.

Everyone agrees that illegal drug dealing needs a remedy. But many prefer a different medicine than the one Mr. McMillan prescribes. Council members should listen carefully to residents at a hearing that begins at 7 tonight at Annapolis City Hall. They should abandon the anti-loitering bill if it lacks broad support in the areas it would likely impact. Imposing a solution residents do not want will not aid police-community relations.

As for the legal question, the alderman said before drafting his bill that he reviewed the Chicago ordinance, which the court ruled was too vague and gave police too much discretion. The Annapolis bill would require officers to consider the "totality of circumstances" in making an arrest for illegal loitering. How police can discern between people standing on the streets to socialize or to deal drugs remains unclear, however.

Stronger law enforcement is needed in Annapolis. Racially divisive politics is not.

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