On behalf of the
National Youth Rights Association
July 26, 2011
Over the last two weeks I have been asked the same question many times: “What good reason is there for teens to be out after 11?”
There are a number of good reasons for a young person to be out late. Abigail has mentioned that she goes swing dancing which lets out after 11 and I know some teens, especially with the oppressive heat we get here from time to time, like to go jogging late at night when it is cooler out. Or perhaps a 16 year old is up late studying for an exam the next day and wants to go for a midnight stroll to clear her head. Or maybe some teens are having a slumber party and want to run over to CVS and pick up a tub of ice cream. When I was in middle school, sometimes in the summer I’d stay up late playing video games with friends and we’d occasionally walk 3 blocks down to the 7-11 to buy Slurpees. We never did anything wrong or were in any danger.
But the heart of the question assumes that only activities that are “productive” should be allowed. Have we come so far as a society that recreation and fun are purely reserved for adults? Is there something sinister about a 17-year-old heading out to the Tastee Diner at 1 am to get a cheeseburger with some friends? We have no problem with adults going out to eat that late. What about that cheeseburger becomes immoral when it is in the hands of a teenager?
As long as they aren’t committing an actual crime, I don’t see anything wrong with a teenager going out to a restaurant late at night, or bowling, or even standing in a public plaza talking with their friends. Adults meet each other and talk to each other at bars and clubs, where do teens go? They go outside since they have no other options. Previous generations hung out at the drive-in. If there is anyone who has any say in how a young person spends their free time it should be their parents, not the police.
The question flips the debate on its head. The burden of proof is not on teenagers. They should not have to give you a good reason why they want to walk outside. The burden of proof is on the Council. You need a very good reason to arrest teens for committing no crime. You need a very good reason to put an entire generation under house arrest. And there isn’t one.
Study after study show that curfews do NOTHING to reduce crime. If a teen is robbing someone or harassing someone, then arrest them. There are already laws against that. But you cannot presume that all teens out late are criminals. As Councilmember Elrich said, 99% of teens do nothing wrong. Why pass a law that penalizes 100% of teens? But crime isn’t even a problem; it has been falling for years.
So cutting through all the rhetoric, what is the “good reason” for passing this curfew? Quite simply it comes down to members of our community being afraid of seeing teens out in public. Especially black teens.
Montgomery County sees itself as a diverse, multi-cultural and tolerant community. An accepting community. This curfew law flies in the face of that image. The law is not based on crime prevention, or good parenting, or science, it is based on fear. Fear of youth and fear of minority teens in particular.
Is that a good reason for this law?