Silence was golden?

Anne Arundel: Annapolis city council approved anti-loitering bill with no visible community support.

October 14, 1999

WHETHER THE people have spoken is debatable, but Alderman Herbert H. McMillan's anti-loitering bill will become law in Annapolis anyway.

If a public mandate exists for this controversial measure aimed at deterring drug-dealing in public housing developments, it's nearly invisible. Mr. McMillan did gain some support during the past several months. Annapolis Housing Authority Director Patricia Croslan and neighborhood block captains endorsed his proposal, as well as some individuals who are fed up with drug-dealing near their homes.

But the fear that this proposal would give police too much latitude to harass African-Americans who were not engaged in criminal activity has not waned. If widespread support exists for Mr. McMillan's approach, as the alderman often claimed, it was not evident at public meetings -- including Monday evening, when the city council narrowly approved the bill, 5-4.

Mr. McMillan believes residents were reluctant to support him openly because they feared being castigated or because they were intimidated by an undefined "drug lobby." However, he also failed to persuade many religious leaders and other members of the African-American community, who feared excessive police power.

The alderman amended his bill to require that residents request an anti-loitering zone within 500 feet of their homes before one can take effect. But could one person make such a decision for his or her entire block? If not one, how many?

Like other anti-loitering laws across the country, this measure is likely to be challenged in court. Opponents' argument isn't, and never was, about the need to get drug dealers off the streets to improve the quality of life. No one disagrees with that. But this measure still doesn't seem a legally sound way to go about it.

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