Ramona Younger's Alexandria neighborhood is plagued by crack dealers, which makes Younger all the more angry that civil rights activists have gone to court to challenge a new city anti-loitering ordinance that she believes offers some relief to her and her frightened neighbors.

"I wish someone who is against this would come out with me at 3 a.m. and see what's going on," said Younger, 33, who lives in the 900 block of N. Alfred Street. "It's one thing to talk about this, it's another to live it."

Elsie Taylor-Jordan, who has lived in Alexandria for all of her 64 years, agrees that something must be done about the drug scourge, but she's not sure an anti-loitering ordinance is the answer.

"If I thought this would help drug addicts, I would be for it 100 percent," said Jordan, known as "Miss Elsie" on the streets, where she can be found pleading with addicts to change their lifestyles. "If they {city officials} get drug treatment centers and give people jobs, the dealers would disappear."

The new ordinance creates a misdemeanor known as "loitering for the purposes of engaging in an unlawful drug transaction." It allows police to arrest anyone who stands in a public place for 15 minutes, makes contact with at least two people and exchanges money or other small items with them.

The law, which passed the City Council in April in a 5 to 2 vote and is being challenged in federal court on constitutional grounds, has spurred strong reactions, particularly in Alexandria's black community, although as of yesterday it had yielded no arrests.

Some black residents say they want relief from drug dealers in their neighborhoods no matter what form it takes. Others, who can remember when anti-loitering laws were used almost exclusively against black people, are concerned that the law is discriminatory and could be abused by police.

While the debate continues, there are indications that the law may be little more than symbolic.

Lenny George, who heads the city's police narcotics division, said no arrests have been made because "we haven't been able to find any cases that meet all the criteria." One law enforcement source said police will be lucky to make "six arrests" under that ordinance this year, assuming it is upheld in court.

Although "not a cure-all," George said the new law is a weapon in the fight against drug trafficking. "Anything would help," he said, observing that police made about 900 drug arrests last year in Alexandria, where around-the-clock drug dealing and open-air drug markets are prevalent in some areas.

But while George and others say the new law is an effective tool, opponents say it violates constitutional guarantees, including the right to free assembly and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The law is being challenged by the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter, the NAACP and several city residents. An anti-loitering ordinance in the District of Columbia was struck down in January by a Superior Court judge.

Regardless of how the Alexandria ordinance fares in federal court, prosecutors say they expect to face some of the same opposing arguments if arrests are made. "Quite frankly, I'm not real optimistic on how we would prevail," said Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney J. Randolph Sengel.

Maxine Clark, who lives in the Arlandria section of the city, said she would be "very disappointed, frustrated" if the Alexandria law is struck down or proves ineffective. She and her neighbors have fought hard to clean their streets of open-air drug markets, she said, and they had high hopes that the new ordinance would bolster their efforts.

"We can't give these dealers any leeway," said Clark, 42, who heads her local citizens association. "We have to make their lives difficult."

Difficult, yes, but not at any cost, said Victor M. Glasberg, a lawyer working with the ACLU on its lawsuit. "People say that to fight this war on drugs, you have to give up rights, that there are trade-offs," said Glasberg. "It's an amazing notion that you should fight social problems by giving up your freedoms, rather than using freedom to address the problems."

Furthermore, said Emmitt Carlton, vice president of the Alexandria branch of the NAACP, "the only people that are going to be arrested are black people. They {police} aren't going to enforce this in Old Town" and other predominantly white sections of the city.

As initially drafted, the ordinance contained a provision requiring the council to specify "high drug-trafficking areas" where the law would have been enforced. That language was amended to make the ordinance apply citywide.

For Clark, selective enforcement is not an issue. "I think it's time for the courts to look at the rights of law-abiding citizens," she said. "It's just not fair to have your lawn littered by drug addicts, and to be kept up all night when you have to work."

Some high school seniors have a different perspective on the new ordinance. "I think the intention of the law is positive," said Tia Watson, 17, a senior at T.C. Williams High School, "but we {young people} have been banned from everywhere else. The streets are the only place we can go. People think that everywhere teenagers hang out, that there is drugs, and it's not always that way."

For Younger, who deals with the effects of drug trafficking every day, drawing the line is not so difficult. "Do you let these drug dealers take over," she asked, "or do you do something?"

The person is in the same general location (an area defined as a circle with a radius of 750 feet from where the person is first observed by police) for at least 15 minutes.

While in the same general location and in a public place, the person has two or more face-to-face contacts with other individuals.

And Each of Such Contacts:

Lasts no more than two minutes.

Involves actions or movements by the person consistent with an exchange of money or other small objects.

Involves actions or movements by the person consistent with an effort to conceal an object that has been exchanged or appears to have been exchanged.

Ends shortly after completion of the apparent exchange.

SOURCE: City of Alexandria's anti-loitering ordinance.