More drug zones being considered

Council will ponder designating 4 areas under city ordinance

Court still to rule on law

Resolution supports Parham

toy gun buyback announced

May 09, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

As Annapolis begins fighting a legal challenge of its anti-loitering law brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the city's mayor and eight alderman are considering applying the ordinance to four more areas.

Resolutions were introduced at last night's council meeting to designate four areas surrounding residences near the Annapolis Gardens/Bowman Court public housing complex as "drug-loitering free zones."

But during the meeting's public comment period, Esther Sharps, vice president of Annapolis Gardens, said names of two people on applications for the zones were invalid. Sharps said Darlene Allen acknowledged not signing the application, and Preston Holland signed without an understanding of the law.

The mayor assured that city staff will talk to the applicants before the resolutions are voted on.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit almost three months ago against the city and police force, challenging the constitutionality of the law. The case is being heard in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

"As soon as the court upholds the law we'll put signs up and start enforcing the zones," said Alderman Herbert H. McMillan, who introduced the ordinance last October.

If the resolutions pass, the areas within 500 feet of 1813, 1826 and 1837 Bowman Drive and 1840 Bowman Court will join four others -- Newtowne Twenty, Robinwood, the area within 500 feet of 24 Pleasant St. and 500 feet of 1003 Monroe St. -- as drug-loitering free zones.

The designation gives police wider discretion to act against loiterers. Officers can move along people they suspect of dealing drugs, as well as anyone who is a known unlawful drug user, possessor, seller or buyer and is subject to a court order prohibiting his or her presence in an area of drug activity.

To be approved for the designation, which remains in force for two years and can be renewed, neighborhoods must meet certain criteria, such as being the site of three or more drug-related arrests within a 24-month period.

Opponents of the law have said the ordinance gives police too much power and unfairly targets African-Americans.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit Feb. 17 in Anne Arundel Circuit Court on behalf of the NAACP and three Annapolis residents who counsel youths, the homeless and drug abusers. The city petitioned to have the case moved to federal court.

A scheduling conference with the judge and parties to the suit is to be held Friday, said Dwight Sullivan chief counsel for the ACLU of Maryland. McMillan said a ruling could be made this summer.

By law, the council must grant the zone status if neighborhoods apply and meet the criteria. McMillan said there have been a fair number of applicants, mostly in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

"This obviously shows that people think that this is a good concept," said McMillan, the Ward 5 Republican.

Also last night, the council passed a resolution in support of Carol S. Parham, the Anne Arundel County superintendent for schools, and a condemnation of the racist death threat she received in late March.

The threat, laced with racial epithets, objected to a plan by Parham to send children from mostly white Mayo Elementary School to predominantly black Annapolis Middle School, while the Mayo building was demolished and a new one built. Parham is African-American.

"I think it's important for the city to condemn any kind of racist threat against a public official," said McMillan, who sponsored the resolution.

Also last night, Alderman Cynthia Carter announced a toy gun buyback scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at the Stanton Center. The move is aimed to get children out of the habit of using a firearm, even a toy one. Money, educational toys and clothing will be offered in exchange for the toy weapons.

"It might not be a solution but its a step on the right direction," Carter said.

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