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Gwen's Spot

17 April 2006

Michigan Curfew: In Which Gwen Hits Her Head On Another Brick Wall

At 11 p.m., kids would be off the streets
Curfew proposed for Wayne County
Amy Lee / The Detroit News
John T. Greilick / The Detroit News
Livonia officials said they have had a problem with teens going over or through the fence at the skate park late at night. The city has a teen curfew on the books.
Curfew CostsKids younger than 17 who are out in pubic in Wayne County past 11 p.m. on weekdays or past midnight on weekends could face tickets and fines. Here's a breakdown of the fines proposed for those caught breaking curfew.
First violation: $100
Second violation in the same calendar year: $200
Third violation within two years: $500
Fourth violation within two years: misdemeanor charge and fine up to $1,000 and or up to 90 days in jail
Source: Wayne County proposed ordinance
The Wayne County Commision is considering establishing a curfew barring anyone under 17 from being in a public area without adult supervision between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays, and after midnight on weekends. Do you think such a curfew is a good idea?
John T. Greilick / The Detroit News
Rob Buono, 17, of Livingston County, skates at the Livonia Skate Park on Thursday. If a curfew is imposed, communities could choose to opt out of the regulation. It would also not change existing curfews.
Kids hoping to stretch their outdoor summer fun past 11 p.m. could face hefty tickets under a plan being considered by the Wayne County Commission.
The proposed curfew would bar those younger than 17, who are not supervised by an adult, from being in a public area within the county after 11 p.m. and before 6 a.m. on weekdays, or after midnight and before 6 a.m. on weekends.
It could take effect as early as May 4 and would dovetail with existing curfews, including Detroit's, to create a curfew that blankets the county.
Communities could choose to opt out of the curfew regulation, however. The county regulation would also not change existing curfews for communities that have them.
The proposed law has strong backing from elected leaders and police agencies throughout Wayne County, but critics argue the law violates the civil rights of a group that lacks a political voice. Curfew laws tend to get more attention as the weather warms and the end of the school year draws near.
--And elections draw near.
"It's one more tool that the parents have to keep their kids under control. It's one thing when parents say these are my rules, but when it's the law, it's a different story," said Commissioner Ilona Varga, D-Detroit, who drafted the proposal. "This could prevent a lot of teenagers from getting in trouble in late hours in the night."
--Unless, of course, teenagers don't commit crimes mainly at night; unless parents disagree with the curfew...
Curfews already are on the books in many county municipalities, including Dearborn, Livonia and Taylor, and elected leaders rarely oppose such laws. But teens and groups that work for youth rights say a teen-targeted curfew singles out a group that can't fight back and could make them feel marginalized and under attack.
--No kidding.
"It's absolutely an infringement on the civil rights of young people. We do have a right to assemble," said Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director of the 6,500-member strong National Youth Rights Association, based in Rockville, Maryland.
"Teens are the victims of a lot of discrimination and stereotypes, but what it comes down to is fear and the misguided notion that teens commit crimes in greater number than adults, and that's simply not the case."
--Go Alex!
But Megan Mullins, 17, of Livonia says she sees the logic of curfews because peer pressure in high school is nothing to take lightly.
"I'm in high school and I know how stupid people can be, and it always seems like that stuff happens at night," said Mullins, as she sat at the Livonia Skate Park on Thursday afternoon.
--Seems is the key word.
Curfews are nothing new. Several Metro Detroit communities have such laws on the books dating to the 1960s. Research into whether they help deter juvenile crime, however, is scant.
An analysis of curfew enforcement and juvenile crime in California published in 1999 in "Western Criminology Review," however, found no evidence that tougher curfew enforcement reduces juvenile crime.
--No, it showed that it increased certain kinds of crime.
Nationwide, about 121,000 youths under the age of 18 are ticketed for curfew and loitering law violations each year, according to 2002 statistics compiled by the FBI, the most recent available. Of those, about 35,000 are under 15 years old.
--So 86,000 are my age or older. Niiiiice.
Local police often cite curfew laws anecdotally as an effective way to prevent crime, and say curfew laws give an added protection to teens by getting them out of the public domain and perhaps preventing them from becoming a crime victim themselves.
"We need to have it. It's an awesome tool to have," said Sgt. Glenn Carriveau who heads up the youth bureau of the Dearborn Police Department.
--Awesome! Like, totally righteous! If we don't like the looks of any non-criminal punk we can top our daily arrest quota!
Indeed, Mullins said it's not unusual for Livonia kids to head home before 11 p.m. because they know police could ticket them for driving after the curfew hour.
"They say they have to go home because they don't want to get caught by the cops," said Mullins, a junior at Churchill High School.
--Sorry, man, I would stay and help pick up litter/play basketball with a Little/keep this car wash to raise money for charity going--but I'd be breaking the law!
Enforcement of curfew laws tends to pick up over the summer months, when freedom from school gives teens time to cruise streets and congregate in parks. "People hear them walking down the street at 3 a.m., and common sense tells you nothing good can come out of a bunch of kids out at 3 a.m.," he said. "Sometimes the cover of darkness can give kids a sense that they can get away with stuff they wouldn't try during the day. This is as much for their protection as it is for the protection of the community."
--Change "kids" for, say, "blacks", or "convicted felons", or "Japs", and maybe common sense should be thought about, you know, rationally.
--Very protective, I'm sure. Just like "protecting" physically disabled people by putting them under house arrest.
Wayne County Undersheriff Harold Cureton praised the idea of a countywide curfew, noting that the county already oversees the juvenile justice system and that curfews act as a crime prevention tool that could eventually lessen the number of kid who funnel through the system.
--Er, no. I don't know where the common sense--or, for that matter, the statistics--are for that particular assertion.
"You can intercede with them at a much earlier stage and increase the chances that down the line they're not going to be a problem for you in the juvenile justice system," Cureton said. "It would have to be a law that was used selectively. We don't want to punish a kid who's on his way home from work. But we do want to keep kids off the street at night."
--Ahhhh, so if you see an angry young man walking down the street, he's black, got gold chains around his neck and rap on his iPod, and he looks at you funny, you stop him and he says he's coming home from work, you're just going to let him go like the enlightened, good, rights-respecting police officer you are. Right.

My letter:
If lawmakers are worried about criminality, why not keep, say, male baby boomers off of the streets? Or how about actually attack the peak crime period for juveniles--between one and four in the afternoon? Or how about keeping racial minorities, who are statistically more likely to commit crimes than whites, locked up under an evening house arrest (no fair arguing poverty; young people are poor too)?
Or, if it's the particular vulnerability of youth that lawmakers are worried about, why not have a curfew for, say, dwarfs, women, and the physically handicapped?
Or if they just want to reduce the crime rate by as much as possible (and 1984 can go burn itself) why not just have a universal curfew?
Government runs on precedent. The precedent that the government should have the power to literally lock people up, charge them money, and mark them as criminals for walking after midnight like Patsy Cline--no matter the justification for the law--is a dangerous precedent.
So is allowing the government to extend its reach into a parent-child relationship without *either* of them wanting it to. What happens when parents say it's O.K. for their kids to be out, but the police officer down the street disagrees? In short, do we actually *want* the government to havethe power arbitrarily to keep an entire demographic away from public spaces?
And it is arbitrary. A study by Drs. Mike Males and Dan Macaillar studied curfew laws in California. The only correlation found in youth crime rates was that curfew laws raised the number of youth-caused non-curfew misdemeanors (you read that right-raised) and significantly raised the number of arson, a primarily youth-caused crime. And in sixty counties studied, the number of youth violent deaths changed in just three--up.
Ray Bradbury's catalyst for Fahrenheit 451 was having a lengthy conversation with an incredulous police officer explaining that he wasn't doing anything illegal by walking down the street. Someday maybe that won't be funny anymore.

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