Baltimore business owners speak out against proposed curfew for bars and clubs across the block – CBS Baltimore

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — On Friday, business owners spoke out against a bill that would force strip clubs and bars on The Block in downtown Baltimore to close at 10 p.m., saying the proposed curfew threatens their livelihoods.

Along with former Maryland Assistant Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, business owners called on Mayor Brandon Scott to stand up for local businesses and challenged supporters of the bill to explain why their industry was being singled out. on point.

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“There are hundreds of employees working here who work very hard every day to provide for their families, to put food on the table for their children,” Vignarajah said. “And make no mistake, a 10 p.m. curfew will shut down most of these businesses.”

Senate Bill 222, a bill introduced Jan. 12 by Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson, would require businesses in the 400 block of East Baltimore Street that hold liquor or adult entertainment licenses to close their doors before 10 p.m.

The legislation is the result of a joint effort by Senator Ferguson, 46th District Dels. Luke Clippinger, Robyn Lewis and Brooke Lierman, Councilman Eric Costello and the nearby Baltimore Police Department.

Supporters of the legislation have cited a recent increase in criminal activity on The Block, saying deploying more officers to the area has drained police resources.

In a statement on Thursday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said police received 831 calls for service on The Block and surrounding areas in 2021, including eight shootings, 15 robberies, 17 aggravated assaults and a suspicious death.

“Violence within and resulting from The Block in Baltimore City’s central business district has increased significantly in recent months despite a robust and consistent deployment by the Baltimore City Police Department,” Harrison said. “Many of them were brazen incidents with police offices in the immediate vicinity.”

Councilman Eric Costello said so many police resources have been injected into this block, it takes away from other areas.

“We met with them several times to give them the opportunity to take control of the situation, and they didn’t, so that was the action that resulted,” he said. “Because they failed to clean it themselves, it will now be cleaned for them.”

University of Baltimore law professor Audrey McFarlane said lawmakers might be within their rights to force businesses to close early to deal with a “side effect” like crime.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that your governments have the ability to enact this type of regulation to deal with side effects and as long as you can show there is a connection between the company and the effects you try to control,” Professor McFarlane said.

Speaking on behalf of business owners, Vignarajah questioned why the proposal targeted bars and clubs in The Block, but not similar establishments elsewhere.

“There are blocks all over the city that have crimes,” he said. “You can’t say there’s crime in Federal Hill, Fell’s Point, Canton, where there’s shootings and fights every weekend, but that’s the block they’re going to shut down .”

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The area has long been associated with adult entertainment, dating back at least to the mid-20th century when Blaze Starr and other burlesque dancers performed in clubs along the street.

Ferguson said Thursday that in other parts of the city where bars are open late, a high police presence and cooperation with business owners has led to a reduction in crime. Unlike those areas, he said, the number and severity of crime near The Block has only increased, even with increased police patrols in the area.

“What we’ve seen is a refusal by business owners to take any responsibility for what’s going on,” Ferguson said.

Vignarajah, however, attributed the rise in crime in Baltimore to city policies discouraging arrest and prosecution for certain offenses, and he challenged Harrison and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to “do their job “.

“That’s not true. We need a crime plan,” Vignarajah said. “But shutting down businesses and excoriating communities because you think you’re better than them is not It’s not a criminal plan. It’s not going to make us any safer.

He said the legislation did nothing to address the reality that crime plagues virtually every neighborhood in Baltimore.

“Solving the crime on The Block will not solve the 21 murders that have already happened this year,” he said. “Tackling crime on The Block is not going to tackle the 40 shootings that have happened in the last 20 days.”

“Not one of them happened here, not one,” he added.

Sara Wantland is co-owner of Club Pussycat, a strip club on East Baltimore Street. She implored supporters of the bill to discuss the legislation with business owners to understand how it could impact not only their bottom line, but also their families.

“It’s our livelihood,” Wantland said. “If this is taken away from us, we cannot provide for our families, like everyone else in the city. So we’re just asking you to think more before you pass a bill like this, that you’re going to affect families like mine who have worked so hard and for so many years to build businesses.

A man named John S., who introduced himself as the president of the East Baltimore Street Association, shared Wantland’s concerns. He said the group was organizing protests in response to the bill.

“We will not allow out-of-touch politicians to abuse hard-working people trying to support their families without ever having a single discussion with any of us,” he said, later adding: “They will learn very quickly that we will defend ourselves.

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Vignarajah said the owners of the business plan to hold another event next Tuesday in front of City Hall.

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