On Monday night, Martine Zee and Thomas Nephew joined about forty other people to attend a meeting of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board — to ask about and speak out against a proposed Montgomery County youth curfew that was the major topic of the meeting.
The youth curfew idea arose after “flash mob” incidents in Silver Spring and Gaithersburg in which youths, communicating by cell phone or social media, coordinated arrivals en masse at a shopping center or convenience store. Video cameras captured the criminal, shoplifting behavior of some of the youths at the convenience store.
A curfew was proposed and debated. But even after some modifications, the youth curfew proposal submitted by County Executive Ike Leggett is an unacceptable infringement of the rights of young people to go where they please when they please, and an infringement of the rights of parents to allow them to do so. The core provisions are:
(1) Minor. A minor must not remain in any public place or establishment in the County during curfew hours. [11-5 weekdays, 12-5am weekends]
(2) Parent. A parent of a minor must not knowingly allow, the minor to remain in any public place or any establishment in the County during curfew hours.
(3) Owner or Operator. The owner or operator of an establishment must not knowingly allow a minor to remain at an establishment during curfew hours.
While the purpose of the “Citizens Advisory Board” is allegedly to “advise the County Executive and the County Council,” on Monday those roles appeared to be reversed, with County Council president Valerie Ervin at the meeting table, along with a parade of guests — primarily from law enforcement — she had invited to lend support and quell concerns about the proposal. But none of the arguments presented were compelling:
- “Youth crime is a problem.”
Sure. But are curfews a solution? Most crime by youth occurs after school, not at night, according to Jim Zepp of the Justice Research and Statistics Association.
- “Youth crime is a growing problem.”
Yet Councilman Phil Andrews, chair of the Public Safety committee, says otherwise in a forceful September 7th op-ed: “Listening to County Executive Isiah Leggett, you would never guess that gang-related crime in Montgomery County decreased 50 percent from 2008 to 2010.”
- “We need it because P.G. County and DC have it, so kids come here instead.”
Well, we don’t like curfews in P.G. County and DC either.
- “This will just be a tool.”
But it’s one that’s designed to always be left “on.”
Student activist Leah Muncie-Perret, Jim Zepp, and I were among those making statements against the curfew during the audience comment period; I videotaped the meeting and will post those statements and some post-meeting interviews as soon as possible. The main news of the night was Councilwoman Ervin’s comment that some on the Council were leaning to a “sunset provision” that would let the curfew expire after some set time period.
Like the Metro bag search tactic, the Montgomery County youth curfew proposal appears to be yet another instance of “security theater”: a measure that is more about appearing to do something about crime than about actually preventing it. Also like the Metro bag searches, they impose inconvenience and restrictions on freedom of movement on more law-abiding citizens than they do on potentially law-breaking ones. Moreover, police at the meeting all but promised not to pursue curfew violations whenever they occurred, but instead to be selective about which violations they’d take seriously. And they said that like it was a good thing –when discretion will likely be more about snap, inevitably biased judgments about who’s a good kid and who’s a bad one: who seems to be spending money, who doesn’t.
Finally, for youth curfews to even pretend to work, they will eventually need to go hand with identification requirements, so that police can actually be sure the person in front of them is under age.
With the proposed curfew, all young people’s freedoms will be diminished in the future because of the bad deeds of a few people in the past. Restrictions of freedom of movement aren’t un-American, unfortunately — they’re how black Americans were oppressed before the Civil War — and then again during the long, vicious reign of Jim Crow. We should not be reviving such tactics in 21st century Montgomery County.