On July 12, I heard the distressing news that Montgomery County, MD, where I’ve lived my whole life, has proposed a youth curfew.

Two weeks later, on July 26, we gathered at the Montgomery County Council hearing on the issue, “we” being myself (Katrina Moncure), Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Kathleen O’Neal, Abigail Burman, Alan Xie, and many many others intending to ensure this curfew proposal never sees the light of day. Alex created and delivered a great testimony, as did Abigail and Alan. I did not give one but did talk to a couple of reporters outside the building before we went in.

The hearing began and after a few unrelated issues the councilmembers voted on real quick, they called the first panel on discussing the curfew proposal. First up was Police Chief Manger, who’s solidly in favor of the curfew, citing July 4 weekend incidents in Silver Spring that prompted the county executive and others to make this proposal. He spoke for a while, going on about concerns about gangs and that a curfew is “another tool for police to use”. The next couple panelists were against the curfew. One of them was Kirill Reznik, state delegate for the county, who stressed the ridiculousness of blaming an entire demographic for crime problems, noting that men commit more crime than women but no one is proposing a curfew on men, nor would one on a group based on race, religion, or any other such egregious rights violation be at all feasible, yet, as he said himself, they do it to those because of their age and can’t vote. Wow! Then Abigail Burman, of Stand Up to the Montgomery County Curfew, with whom we’ve teamed up to stop this thing, gave a great testimony.

After this panel was finished, Councilmembers Phil Andrews and Roger Berliner challenged Chief Manger’s position, whether a curfew would have stopped the July 4th weekend incident, since many of those involved were over 18 anyway and the mess began before the would-be curfew hours. They had an interesting back and forth on the specifics of the curfew before Councilmember Valerie Ervin, who was chair, said there were more panels to get through and this conversation is better for a work session. A few other councilmembers spoke up. Councilmember Marc Elrich, while seeming ambivalent either way though definitely leaning in favor of curfew, stressed how complicated the issue is and how much there is to consider. Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Craig Rice expressed concern that a curfew would be used for racial profiling, a problem the county and other nearby areas have had, but Chief Manger assured them this would not happen, stating he would be sure his police are well trained and the “right kind of people”.

After all that, the second panel went up, which included Alex and Alan, plus a lot of pro-curfew people representing safety groups in Silver Spring. Every time an anti-curfew person spoke, they got a round of applause, which pro-curfew people did not get. Pro-curfew people used a lot of the same tired arguments, the concern over gangs and, as it seems every single one of them said, it’s “another tool for police to use”, usually alongside a baseless promise the police would not target “good” kids, though to these people’s slight slight credit, most of them believe the current proposal as written is problematic. The idea that it’s a curfew proposal at all, of course, makes it problematic!

One pro-curfew panelist was especially anti-teen, speaking on behalf of a neighborhood association near Rockville. He said he gets complaints from neighbors all the time about “groups of teens wandering around at night” and he said that a curfew is needed so they can be told to scram or arrested. Because otherwise, they can’t be because they aren’t breaking the law by just walking down the street, and this bothers him. Seriously. He cited numerous instances of vandalism and “flash mobs” (LOL) and how those teens have “e-mail and texting” nowadays to organize such mischief, and despite acknowledging not actually knowing who committed the vandalism, he said “of course it was teenagers”. Honestly, I didn’t even find room to be offended at all this because it was just that laughable.

The next two panels were by and large against the curfew. They included a couple ACLU people, private citizens, and parents who did not want the county telling them how to parent. One mom stressed that setting curfews was “her job” and not the county’s. A bothersome sentiment to most of us youth rights supporters, not believing parental authority is really any better, but I guess the important part is she was against the curfew law. Other parents, mostly moms, didn’t even use the “my job” excuse and outright claimed setting a curfew was inhibiting their children’s ability to be mature and responsible. Yes! In the fourth and final panel, a man from the Fraternal Order of Police was very against the curfew. Nice! There was also a man named Jack who was on our side who took a very libertarian anti-government stance against it, even quoting Ayn Rand. Yeah, hmm.

All in all, terrific hearing! Alex estimated the speakers were against the curfew in a 3-1 ratio. Throughout, the council stated repeatedly that this proposal is a “work in progress”, since people on both sides of the issue were even expressing concerns with it. We anti-curfew people, of course, were pointing out that alongside these valid concerns, the only real way to avoid these concerns would be no curfew at all!

And we’re not done with this yet! There are more council events for us to attend and be sure this thing gets shot down.

And tomorrow night, July 29, to kick off our 2011 Annual Meeting, we are having an anti-curfew RALLY in Silver Spring at 9pm, at the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth! Join us!

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