Dozens of Washington, D.C., residents, business owners, and activists on Wednesday sounded off at a hearing on a crime and policing bill introduced last month by Mayor Muriel Bowser, offering mixed opinions on its wide-ranging provisions as public safety concerns peak. Around 80 people criticized aspects of the mayor’s bill, including a rollback of some provisions of major police reform legislation created after George Floyd’s murder and an anti-loitering statute that has raised constitutional questions, reports the Washington Post. Among its provisions, Bowser’s plan aims to crack down on open-air drug markets by reviving a decades-old policy that allows police to set up temporary “drug-free zones,” making organized retail theft a felony, and making it illegal to wear a mask to commit crimes or cause fear. It would also eliminate a provision of the policing law requiring the release of officers’ names in disciplinary cases, and it would limit public access to an officer’s disciplinary records if the alleged infraction is not sustained.
Some who testified in support of the bill shared stories about friends and family members who have been recent victims of crime or anecdotes about suspected drug activity they say has gone on unabated. Kenyattah Robinson, president of the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District, said these fears have been exacerbated by inaction on “quality of life” issues that he believes Bowser’s bill could help remedy. Longtime resident Keith Hasan-Towery called some aspects of Bowser’s bill “good” but said other components needed more thought. He questioned whether establishing a five-day, drug-free zone would simply allow illegal activity to proliferate elsewhere. Some others who opposed the drug-free-zone proposal questioned its constitutionality, noting the D.C. Council in 2014, which included Bowser, voted unanimously to repeal a near-identical statute because of due process concerns that had been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and the D.C. attorney general. Last month, however, current Attorney General Brian Schwalb said the bill was “legally sufficient.” The bill would loosen restrictions on vehicular pursuits, narrow the definition of prohibited neck restraints, and allow officers to review their body-camera footage before writing a police report except in cases of officer-involved shootings or serious uses of force.