Annapolis mayor excluded by NAACP

Johnson not invited to annual dinner

November 09, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The NAACP's Anne Arundel County chapter has not asked Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson to its annual gala dinner Friday, emphasizing that the group sent invitations only to supporters of African-Americans.

Gerald Stansbury, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the group sent invitations to county and state politicians for the annual black-tie dinner that consistently draws more than 600 people. But Johnson, who recently voted for an anti-loitering bill that the NAACP opposes, was not on the guest list, Stansbury said last night outside City Hall, where he was attending a protest of the new law.

"We sent invitations to those who support the causes of the NAACP," Stansbury said. "We reached out to the people that try to work with the African-American community."

Johnson, a Republican, has come under fire since the city council approved the anti-loitering ordinance by a 5-4 vote last month. He said he was invited to the dinner last year and was "disappointed" to be excluded this year.

"Whether or not people disagree with a vote, I represent, to the best of my ability, the community of Annapolis," Johnson said. "In previous years, I've taken hard votes on issues, which the NAACP strongly supported. If this is the result of one vote, I'm disappointed."

The law that the NAACP opposed is one that allows communities to apply for "drug-loitering free zone" status so that police can ask suspected drug dealers congregating in privately owned areas in those neighborhoods to move on.

Alderman Herbert H. McMillan, a Republican who represents Ward 5, introduced the ordinance in May after hearing numerous complaints from public housing residents about suspected drug dealers loitering on sidewalks in their neighborhoods.

The ordinance says that "known" drug offenders -- defined as those convicted of drug possession, distribution or use in the past seven years -- will be barred from loitering in these designated communities. The law also allows police to disperse loiterers behaving suspiciously, such as repeatedly engaging in conversations to passers-by or drivers, or making hand signals to them that are associated with drug activity.

The council approved the ordinance after months of heated debate in Annapolis in which the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union charged that police officers would use the law to harass black people standing on street corners.

But the bill drew support from Annapolis Housing Authority Executive Director Patricia Croslan, who is African-American, several black residents of public housing communities and the city's more than 200 Neighborhood Watch block leaders, who hailed it as a much-needed tool to fight drug dealing.

An Eastport Neighborhood Watch group and a resident of Pleasant Street in Annapolis have applied for drug-loitering free zone status. The council could approve the applications as early as next month.

Robert Eades, an African-American Annapolitan who organized last night's protest, said that even though the bill has become law, he plans to demonstrate against it.

"The law can be repealed," said Eades, as he paced outside City Hall with about a dozen other protesters, who carried placards that slammed Johnson and McMillan. "That's what we want, and that's what we're going to fight for."

McMillan criticized protesters for misinterpreting the bill and emphasized he is trying to help African-American constituents who brought complaints to him about loiterers. He praised Johnson for voting for the ordinance despite criticism and pressure from opponents.

"His vote took a great deal of courage," McMillan said.

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