Black leaders plan 23-mile march against anti-loitering measure

Protest route goes from Prince George's to the State House

August 06, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Annapolis' black leaders, together with the National Black Leadership Roundtable, say they will march 23 miles from Prince George's County to the State House next week to protest anti-loitering legislation proposed by a city alderman out to reduce drug trafficking in public housing projects.

The march, starting at noon Aug. 13 in a parking lot in the 5900 block of Princess Garden Parkway in Lanham, is also meant to protest the 1993 shooting death of a Prince George's County man by two officers during a traffic stop, said the organizers of a news conference yesterday at the Asbury United Methodist Church on West Street in Annapolis.

"We are connecting all of these local issues into a national issue," said Joe Madison, a member of the Enough is Enough movement and the National Black Leadership Roundtable. The two groups are holding hearings across the country protesting police brutality and racism. Walter E. Fauntroy, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and Roundtable president, said he plans to hold one in Annapolis on a date to be determined.

The anti-loitering bill, slated for an Annapolis city council vote next month, has riled Annapolis black community leaders, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union, who say it gives police too much freedom to harass blacks standing on street corners.

Alderman Herbert H. McMillan, a Ward 5 Republican, introduced the bill in May and touted it as a remedy for drug-trafficking and noise in the city. He began crafting the bill after neighborhood watch groups complained that police could not arrest suspected drug dealers found loitering in privately owned open spaces such as parking lots and sidewalks in public housing communities. Those areas are the property of the Annapolis Housing Authority, which is not part of city government so its property is not considered public.

The proposed legislation would allow police to arrest loiterers on private property that is open to the public, such as the public housing thoroughfares.

The ACLU and the NAACP have called on McMillan to withdraw his bill, saying it is unconstitutional and in conflict with the Supreme Court's recent decision striking down a Chicago anti-loitering law targeting gang members.

"We are very opposed to the bill," ACLU lawyer Susan Goering said during yesterday's news conference. "It is riddled with ways that would allow police too much discretion."

She said that among other things, the bill would allow police to arrest people based on "mind reading."

"If they [police] think there is intent to distribute drugs, they can arrest them or ask them to move along," she said.

McMillan has refused to withdraw the bill. He was out of town yesterday but said by phone that the protest "underscores the further politicization of a public safety issue. It is being spun and painted as a loitering-while-black bill. We have a good record of cooperation between our police and citizens. It represents a disconnect between the political direction of some elitist black leaders and the people they claim to represent."

"No amount of marching, spinning or obfuscation will change the reality," McMillan said.

Organizers of the march say they are not sure how many people will participate. They are advertising on the radio and passing out petitions protesting the Prince George's shooting as well as the anti-loitering law.

"This is something that we need to nip in the bud before it gets out of hand," said Annapolis Alderman Cynthia A. Carter, a Ward 6 Democrat. "And we need the support of the citizens."

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