During the past three years some neighborhoods in Alexandria have seen the emergence of a new and dangerous problem: groups, young and old, men and women, hanging out on sidewalks and street corners, selling crack cocaine and other drugs. The Alexandria City Council recently responded with an ordinance to make loitering with the intent to distribute drugs a crime.

This drew a sharp rebuke from The Post {"Another Useless Loitering Law," editorial, June 21}, which found the statute absurdly narrow. Local chapters of the ACLU and the NAACP have filed a suit claiming the law is so broad that police could arrest anyone -- even lawyers who "have business cards that they give to persons whom they may meet on the street," to quote from the ACLU-led brief.

Both The Post and the plaintiffs ignore several important points about the ordinance.

The ordinance targets only street-level drug dealing. Sidewalk sales are only part of the drug trade, but they create special problems for surrounding neighborhoods. Dealers on the street are bad role models for young people, a constant lure for those who seek the quick buck and a special temptation for recovering addicts.

The purpose of this ordinance is to make neighborhoods uncomfortable places for drug dealers. Many local citizens have been confronted by drug dealers, causing some of them to move. But the problem hasn't gone away; some neighbors are scared. It is unreasonable to expect us to keep standing up to dangerous criminals if the police cannot back us up by telling dealers to move on or risk arrest.

It is hard for most people to comprehend what it's like to encounter a person who says, "Want a rock?" as they walk to their car. Or the feelings of a mother who prays that her child will be strong enough to walk past dealers on the way to school.

The kind of street-level dealing that takes place in minority neighborhoods of Alexandria would never be tolerated in Old Town or Georgetown. While we are sure that opponents of the ordinance share our goal of having safe streets, the effect of their position is that open drug markets will stay in our neighborhoods, away from the nearby homes of well-to-do.

The law before this ordinance required citizens actually to see drugs change hands before complaints gave police probable cause on which to base an arrest or even issue a summons. This may be great in theory, but in practice it is worthless. Drug dealers hang out for hours on the same block and cut their deals with elaborate rituals designed to keep the drugs out of sight. They often use children as runners to make prosecution more difficult. This marketing and delivery system for drugs should be made illegal -- which is what the ordinance does.

Although the ordinance was passed citywide, critics have said it will be selectively enforced against blacks. Not true. This ordinance will be selectively enforced against drug dealers. In fact, had this problem afflicted white neighborhoods such laws would have been passed and enforced long ago.

This ordinance helps make our neighborhood a better place to live and raise our children. Our neighborhoods are not lost causes. Far from it. It may surprise readers to know that the overwhelming majority of Alexandria's minority residents do not use drugs. Most of us work hard at being responsible parents, workers and citizens, and we are clearly making progress against the drug problem now that a responsive city government is listening to its citizens. The anti-drug loitering ordinance is one more step in that direction.

This is our ordinance. It was not foisted on us. During the past several years local citizens have successfully sought expanded drug treatment, removal of abandoned cars, the renovation of parks for children, nighttime park patrols and improved litter and trash removal. Finally we asked the city to get rid of the dealers on the corners, with our help. It soon became obvious that a new law was needed, so we took the issue to the police and later to the city council.

No one knows for sure how much the anti-loitering law will help, and later amendments may be needed, but its passage was a hard-won victory for our community. We deserve a chance to see it tried. Our opponents' lawsuit and the sneering tone of The Post editorial is like a slap in the face to citizens in the trenches of the drug war in Alexandria.

Maxine M. Clark and Jesse Jennings are active in a citizens coalition that filed a brief supporting the anti-drug loitering law.