Curfews Essay, Research Paper
Curfews unfair, ineffective, and unconstitutional
When you hear politicians and police talking about getting tough on “juvenile crime,” you may imagine a school shooting, like those that have recently occurred in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Springfield Oregon. Others may recall TV clips of young people, sometimes covered by masks or paper bags to hide their identities, being dragged away in handcuffs, as the television speaks of chargers ranging from rape to robbery. But in America today, more kids are arrested for curfew law violations then any other single category of crime, including all violent crimes-combined. Everyone from law enforcement to the President have endorsed tougher curfew laws as being the solution to America’s crime woes, though none have ever cited real data to prove that sending 142,000 kids through the justice system for being out too late each year reduces crime. They assume that anything that takes kids off the streets must reduce crime.
There is no justification to juvenile curfews (which may explain why the Supreme Court did not write an opinion on the matter). Restricting an American’s freedom of movement is an obvious trespass over the First Amendment, and to stroll around a park or public square is hardly the “clear and present danger” to the community usually required for such an infringement. USA Today has described the laws as making it “a crime to be young.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) John Horwarth told the Washington Post that curfew laws infringe on the rights of “all people, including the young, to … generally move around without interference from authorities unless and until they are actually doing something unlawful.” But a city mayor or councilman has no need for such rhetoric. Why worry about the First Amendment when one can claim to be reducing the crime rate, yet affect no voters?
The Conference of Mayors conducted a survey of 347 cities with a population over 30,000. Nearly 80 percent of the surveyed cities have a nighttime youth curfew, and 26 percent of these cities also have a daytime curfew. Nine out of ten of the cities said that enforcing the youth curfew was a productive use of a police officer’s time. Many said curfews give police time to focus on older criminals.
About ten percent of the cities surveyed felt that curfew enforcement was not the best use of an officer’s time. Some cities also complained that curfews increase the amount of paperwork they must process. And some noted there is nowhere to take juvenile violators if their parents aren’t home. The cities that did not find curfews a useful tool argued that nighttime curfews place the city in the parental role and cause more crimes during non-curfew hours.
It is difficult to imagine a more blatant violation of Constitutional rights than the curfew laws which restrict the movements of teens nationwide. The Supreme Court has refused to hear cases questioning such laws, such as the Washington State Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling which stated that “mere sauntering or loitering on a public way is lawful and the right of any man, woman, or child.” The Bill of Rights, apparently, still is only applicable to those whom the government wishes to enfranchise.