Although Alexandria's anti-loitering ordinance has some supporters {Close to Home, July 1}, the Northern Virginia ACLU, the Alexandria NAACP, a group called the Tenants Support Committee and 15 Alexandria residents believe it violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. To preserve the freedom of assembly, the freedom from illegal searches and seizures and the guarantees of due process and equal protection, we have filed suit in federal district court to overturn this ordinance.

The anti-loitering law will criminalize the legitimate activities of several of our individual plaintiffs, who counsel substance abusers, hand out business cards at crime scenes and conduct voter registration and tenant-organization drives.

We also believe that it will be enforced almost exclusively in black neighborhoods and that almost all those arrested will be black. When the law was originally proposed in April, it was to be enforced solely in city council-selected areas of the city that -- coincidentally -- had high concentrations of black residents.

Although the law was amended to allow for citywide enforcement, we still believe that it will be selectively enforced. Several of our black plaintiffs claim that, even prior to the passage of the ordinance, police ordered them to "move on" when their only offense was that they were standing around in a public place. We wonder what sort of harassment will be allowed should police be given the discretion to arrest citizens under the anti-loitering law.

The writers of the Close to Home piece conceded that "no one knows how much the anti-loitering law will help, and later amendments may be needed." However, I can tell them now that the only thing this sham statute will help to do is to create a false hope that a Class 1 misdemeanor (up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine) will solve Alexandria's drug problems.

We already have some tough drug laws on the books. In Alexandria, you can get up to 40 years for your first drug offense and up to life in prison for your second. The city's new jail is already packed to capacity with drug felons. By comparison, the law enforcement community estimates that there would be about six arrests for the remainder of the year under the loitering law, and local prosecutors aren't exactly overwhelmingly confident that they could even convict anybody under the law.

In addition, the law continues to be significantly amended. The first time around, it was amended because it violated a person's Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination. A few weeks ago, it was amended to make clear that the ordinance did not reverse an individual's traditional presumption of innocence. We assert in our complaint that the law, even much amended, still incorrectly shifts the burden of proof from the commonwealth to the individual.

Our lawsuit is not a "slap in the face to citizens in the trenches of the drug war in Alexandria." Alexandrians are fighting drugs without trampling on the Bill of Rights, and measures such as the anti-loitering law are the last thing our neighborhoods need. -- Emmitt Carlton is vice president of the Alexandria NAACP.