Sunday, June 1, 2003

Ordinance helps curb drug dealing

In response to a letter ("New loitering law attacks civil rights," May 29) criticizing the city's recent efforts to crack down on public drug dealing, I write to clarify the purpose and effect of the new drug-loitering law.

In phone calls, public hearings and personal conversations, citizens from across this city have justifiably cried out that open and public illegal drug dealing has overwhelmed too many streets and neighborhoods. As the citizens have made clear in disturbing story after story, there are deep and long-term effects from this criminal takeover of our public spaces. To name a few, the illegal activity manipulates and entices our youth, intimidates the elderly and other law-abiding citizens from enjoying their own streets, breeds more violent crime and shootings, and thwarts progress as citizens try to reclaim troubled neighborhoods. Citizens who have the ability to leave such intimidating circumstances will do so quickly.

It's time, as a city, that we say enough is enough, and take decisive steps to back up those words. The recently passed "Drug-Loitering Ordinance" will be one tool in doing so. The law bans loitering for the purpose of illegal drug dealing. It specifically identifies distinct and relatively unmistakable actions associated with illegal drug dealing in a public place, and gives the police the authority to proactively engage such open-air dealing, disperse those engaged in it, and to make an arrest if the dealers refuse to disperse. Of course, if such dealers are found to be committing more serious crimes, they will be charged with those as well.

The law is proactive, preventative, forceful, and sends the clear message that we will not tolerate drug dealing in our public spaces and streets. Period. This continual disruption of open-air markets is a key ingredient to taking back our streets, as other cities and a national study have found.

Unfortunately, some on the airwaves and elsewhere have mistakenly described this law as an "anti-loitering" law - one that would unjustly target youth who are simply standing on the street. It does no such thing. Laws that simply ban loitering have been struck down time and again. With guidance from the Supreme Court, this law focuses instead on specific actions in public spaces that exhibit an intent to conduct illegal drug transactions. Simply standing on a street corner does not violate the new law, and the law makes clear that race is not a relevant factor.

Yes, this is a tough law, but it's tough on the drug dealers - which is desperately needed. Indeed, rather than targeting innocent activity, the aim of this law is to protect it, and once again allow for the enjoyment of our public spaces by law-abiding citizens, whether they want to walk down the street, play on their street, or stand on the sidewalk. Today, too few do so because the drug dealers have taken over these spaces.

My hope is that this law will make our streets safe yet again for our youth and everyone else. It was crafted carefully to do this, which is why it is on the books in a number of cities, and was supported unanimously at council.


David Pepper, Cincinnati City Councilman

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