Proposed curfew for minors is rejected in vote by Annapolis rules committee


ANNAPOLIS -- A curfew for minors proposed by Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins to combat a recent increase in drug-related violence was dealt a setback last night, when the council's rules committee unanimously recommended its rejection.

"The curfew is both unconstitutional and unworkable, and it was ill-conceived and badly packaged," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the rules committee.

The panel's vote followed a public hearing last night on the curfew proposal attended by about 60 residents.

"Annapolis has become a lucrative market in the drug trade," said Emily Green, an aide to Mayor Hopkins. "Annapolis was once a place to get away to; it's now become part of the metropolis. That drastic change has caused us to look for drastic answers."

But students, black community leaders and Annapolis Housing Authority officials opposed the plan, saying it was unconstitutional and could be abused by police.

"What if a tourist gets shot?" asked Stephanie Finn, an Annapolis High School senior. "Are we going to say, 'Let's get all the tourists out of here?' "

The bill would require anyone under age 17 to leave public places by 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.

Parents of minors who break the curfew or business owners who admit minors after the curfew could be fined between $5 and $300. If they didn't pay, they could be jailed.

The council will vote on the curfew next month. To appease critics, the city administration dropped plans to ban people under age 16 from loitering in public during school hours, and made the proposed curfew a trial, to end Aug. 31, rather than permanent.

Baltimore and about 24 other jurisdictions in Maryland have curfews.

The Maryland chapter of the AmericanCivil Liberties Union has opposed the curfew, saying it would "infringe on residents' civil rights and civil liberties" and would do little to fight drug-related violence.

City officials who testified for the curfew, noted that Annapolis had a record five homicides last year, all believed to be drug-related. The city had three homicides in 1989.

However, none of the culprits or victims was a minor, Mr. Snowden noted.

All the homicides occurred in or near the city's 10 public housing projects. After this year's first homicide, on Jan. 15, Alderman Samuel Gilmer proposed putting up fences around the projects.

Residents said the plan smacked of slavery, and the Annapolis Housing Authority criticized it as unworkable, but the proposal also demonstrates how desperate Annapolis has become to solve its crime problem.

"We have had more funerals than any of us wanted," Mr. Snowden said. "However, in our zeal to eradicate drugs from our community, I do not want to see the civil liberties of people abridged."

Paul Shread is a reporter for the Anne Arundel County Sun, a suburban edition of The Baltimore Sun.

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