- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

CUMBERLAND, Md. — Downtown merchants complained for years about people loitering near the eastern end of Cumberland’s brick-lined pedestrian mall, but it took a killing to move them to action.

Two months after a man was beaten to death there by five street toughs, the Downtown Development Commission has asked the mayor and City Council to investigate the feasibility of a loitering ordinance.

“I do think something should be done about the level of vagrancy,” said David Kauffman, owner of Kauffman Music on the downtown mall. “It’s bad for business.”

Movements to limit loitering also have surfaced recently in two other Western Maryland cities, prompting outcries from advocates for the poor and homeless.

In Hagerstown, a judge ordered two benches removed from in front of the Washington County courthouse, and city officials have proposed restricting the location of homeless shelters.

In Frederick, a downtown-improvement group is recommending relocation of two wooden benches near the city center that often are occupied by noisy, poorly dressed men.

“The purpose of having benches downtown is for tourists and shoppers to just kind of sit down and relax for a minute. It’s not a place for people to sit all day long,” said Patty Hurwitz, co-owner of Colonial Jewelers and a member of the Downtown Frederick Partnership.

Advocates for the poor say such comments reflect an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude toward the homeless, the unemployed and the mentally ill.

“I think communities have a responsibility to take care of their own instead of trying to make life more miserable for the poorest of the poor,” said James Upchurch, president of Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland, a builder of homes for the poor. He said removing benches and persecuting loiterers in hopes they’ll go elsewhere are flawed strategies because “there is no ‘someplace else.’”

“We just have to accept them,” he said.

Acceptance became more difficult in Cumberland after the Aug. 2 death of William M. Bodes. The Rev. Daniel G. Taylor, who runs the Union Rescue Mission, about a block from the crime scene, said his 75-year-old mother has been afraid to walk alone downtown since the assault.

Still, Mr. Taylor said he prefers enforcement of current laws to enactment of a loitering ordinance. “There’s nowhere else for them to go,” he said.

Cumberland Mayor Lee Fiedler also favors stepped-up enforcement of existing laws that prohibit panhandling and blocking of sidewalks and business entrances.

Mr. Fiedler said streetlights have been made brighter and surveillance cameras installed in known downtown trouble spots since the Bodes killing, which he believes was a targeted attack, not a random crime.

Removing the mall’s green metal benches and concrete planters would run counter to downtown-revival efforts bearing fruit after a decade of nurturing, Mr. Fiedler said. “We can take all that out, and then nobody comes down, and we’ll say, ‘Well, we’ve stopped the loitering.’”

Wade Clark, who runs Clark’s Camera Centre with his wife, Debby, said classical music, blaring late at night from the mall’s public-address system, would drive loiterers away. Vandals broke the speakers when the city tried it last month, but Mr. Clark said the idea deserves another shot.

Like Mr. Fiedler, he thinks the men charged in Mr. Bodes’ death were the chief downtown troublemakers in the mountain city of 21,000, and that most of the loiterers left on the mall pose no threat.

“I watched some of them grow up,” he said. “This is their town. This is their neighborhood. This is where they live.”

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