Loitering Zones a Risky Gambit

Our first reaction to Annapolis' new "anti-loitering" ordinance is concern on Constitutional grounds. Our second reaction is a wait-and-see attitude as we watch this bold but risky offensive take shape.

In case you missed it, the city council, in a 5-4 vote last week, adopted a proposal aimed at countering the crack-dealers operating in several Annapolis neighborhoods.

It works as follows: Groups of residents or neighborhood associations can form Drug/Loitering Free Zones. In these zones, someone who has been convicted of a drug crime in the past seven years can be ordered to leave - if that person is behaving suspiciously or if there's reliable information he or she is involved at present in drug transactions.

What worries us is the threat to people's rights. Someone who has, as they say, paid their debt to society could be barred from being where they wanted or even needed to be. Innocent people will be detained during background checks, increasing the potential for abuses. The part about "suspicious" behavior worries us, too.

We've been accused of looking suspiciously at poached eggs that were a tad runny.

Possibly, if not probably, this law is unconstitutional; the American Civil Liberties Union intends to bring it to a test. Until courts rule, let's go with the will of the majority on the council. Let's take the new law as a good-faith, hard-nosed drive by our elected officials to rid streets of trouble. Let's see how people respond to the new power given to them. And let's watch how police go about enforcing it.

There's no reason to believe that police will become over-zealous or racially motivated enforcing this ordinance, as some detractors say. Police have a daunting task in combating the crack trade and this law - if it passes the Constitution test - might help.

We should never lose site of threats to individual liberties because, as is so often noted, it's a "slippery slope" once we begin to lose them.

By the same token, we must take stock of the arrogant and menacing crack-dealers corroding our neighborhoods. The new law, even if struck down, is a message from Annapolitans that they will fight back.

| Issue 42 |

Volume VII Number 42
October 21-27 1999
New Bay Times

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