Civil Rights Concerns Doom House Measure

David Nitkin, Baltimore Sun, Mar. 22

Minority lawmakers and civil rights groups claimed victory Tuesday after blocking a bill that would have made it a crime for people to refuse to identify themselves to police.

“This is an encroachment on our constitutional civil rights,” said Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who helped coordinate an effort blocking a House of Delegates vote.

“It gave the police another vehicle to harass and accost people without reason,” added Democratic Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks of Baltimore.

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Local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the bill, saying it could have been used to single out African-Americans, Latinos and Muslims.

Black lawmakers exerted enough pressure Tuesday to persuade the bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kevin Kelly, a Western Maryland Democrat, to return the legislation to committee, effectively killing it for the year. Several lawmakers cheered on the House floor when Kelly made the announcement.

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Maryland police said they wanted the law because they are unable to make arrests in some cases where they do not see the crime, such as assaults. In those cases, the victim can press charges before a court commissioner, if the victim can identify the attacker.

If the stop-and-identify law were adopted, police said, they would be able to demand that a suspect disclose his or her name—and press charges if that person didn’t comply.

“It was just one additional tool that police would be able to use in finding suspects,” said Bill Toohey, a Baltimore County police spokesman.

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