The Baltimore City Council's plan to declare martial law in the city's most crime-ridden areas has drawn howls of protest from the American Civil Liberties Union who say it is unconstitutional.

Council vice president Bob Curran drafted the proposal, which, if enacted, would allow police to shut down businesses and limit the number of people gathered on the sidewalks in affected neighborhoods.

ACLU spokesman David Rocah says that the measure could only be constitutional in an extraordinary circumstance such as a riot. "The problem of murders in Baltimore is a serious problem. There is no denying that. But that is not a problem - here or anywhere else in the U.S. - that gives the mayor or the police chief the power to declare martial law," Rocah told WBAL TV.

The Curran measure, now being discussed in committee, allows the mayor to establish public safety zones for two weeks. It also gives the mayor the option of renewing the public safety zones.

WBAL TV reports that Baltimore police have already adopted some of the tactics proposed by Curran, including neighborhood barricades, I.D. checks, and flooding the areas with government services. The ACLU decries the tactics as similar to those imposed under South Africa's Apartheid system.

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