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Play Is Banned On All Baltimore Streets. A City Council Bill Could Repeal That

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Maureen Harvie/WYPR
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Playing a game of tag or tossing a ball on the streets of Baltimore is, thanks to current city laws, illegal. A new City Hall measure introduced by Councilman Ryan Dorsey is trying to change that.

Section 50-41 of Article 19 of the City Code makes it unlawful for any person to “play ball, fly a kite or throw a stone or other object or missile while in any street, alley, lane or other public thoroughfare” in Baltimore. Doing so could land you a misdemeanor and a $50 fine, thanks to another part of city code.

Dorsey’s bill aims to repeal both of those parts of the city code. During a Wednesday hearing on the legislation at City Hall, the Democrat said that the bill is a question of who has the right to fully enjoy public space.

Baltimore already prioritizes parking cars in public streets, Dorsey said, and “it’s beyond the pale to say not only are we going to prioritize private storage of material goods, but we're also going to criminalize other non-harmful uses of that public street.”

Several supporters testified in support of the bill, including Shamoyia Gardiner, the education policy director at Advocates for Children and Youth.

“It makes absolutely no sense to have this ordinance on the books which criminalizes the behavior of children that is extremely natural,” Gardiner said. “There is a disproportionate impact of the criminalization of childlike behaviors on black children.”

The Baltimore Police Department did not provide an official stance on the bill, saying it defers to the Law Department and the Department of Transportation. 

“While we believe that this bill is well intended and seeks to provide children with much needed additional recreational options,” wrote BPD’s Michelle Wirzberger, “we are concerned that it could have the unintended consequence of putting children in jeopardy of being struck by a passing vehicle.” 

Wirzberger wrote that some thoroughfares such as Martin Luther King Boulevard and The Alameda are thoroughfares that “are not safe for anyone to play on” and suggested that the DOT determine which streets could be appropriate for playing.

DOT director Steve Sharkey wrote that his department will support the bill if it includes an amendment to repeal the prohibition of play on local roads only, meaning play on thoroughfares like MLK Boulevard and The Alameda would remain banned.

The Law Department approves of the bill. Chief Solicitor Hilary Ruly noted that state law still makes certain street activities illegal, such as jaywalking, and that those laws will be untouched by any city legislation. 

The bill has several rounds of city hall legislation to pass before it can be enacted.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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