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DC Reinstates Drug Free Zones Under Mayor Bowser’s Anti-Crime Bill

Washington, DC recently declared the reinstatement of “drug-free zones” as a part of the Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act signed into law by Muriel Bowser on Monday, March 13th. According to DC News Now, “The reinstated law allows MPD to declare any public area up to 1,000 square feet a drug-free zone for up to 120 hours – or five days. During those five days, police can restrict people from loitering in the designated zones.” The following day, March 14th, police began enforcement in three neighborhoods including Gallery Place-Chinatown area of Northwest D.C.; Minnesota Avenue-Benning Road area in Northeast D.C.; and Woodland Terrace in Southeast D.C. (WTOP News). The Act allows law enforcement to more easily arrest individuals suspected of illegal drug activity if they refuse to leave the “drug-free zone.” Since the reinstatement of the zones less than a month ago, fifteen individuals have already been arrested.

Drug-free zones have been unenforced in the District since 2014 after the D.C. council raised concerns about their constitutionality. However, with the recent rise in crime rates, Mayor Bowser has opted to reinstate the zones in an effort to combat drug-related crimes. In response to Mayor Bowser's anti-crime measures, many individuals and organizations are concerned about the implications of the “drug-free zones,” and the demographics they may target. The ACLU’s Policy Counsel, Melissa Wasser, has spoken openly about the organization's objection to the zones and their opposition to the anti-crime bill in its entirety. Wasser stated that “failed and ineffective ‘drug-free’ zones do little to prevent crime; instead, they open the door for police officers to harass people and violate our rights” (DC News Now). 

The zones are selected at the police chief’s discretion and are chosen based on drug arrests, calls for service, and the violent crime rates in an area (WTOP News). Executive assistant police chief, Jeffery Carroll claims that the zones are not an anti-loitering measure, and simply being in a zone is not illegal. However, the bill states that groups of two or more who are believed to be involved in drug activity can be asked to leave at the discretion of law enforcement. 

Mayor Bowser’s anti-crime bill and the reinstatement of “drug-free zones” have many D.C. citizens concerned about Black and Brown communities being the target of greater police surveillance, arrests, and violence. Currently, the affected neighborhoods are already experiencing an increase in arrest rates and will likely continue to see a more significant police presence in the coming months. Whether or not the measure will be impactful in lowering crime rates is yet to be determined, but the negative consequences of the action are already being felt. 



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