Dear County Council members,
The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition joins a great number of county residents and organizations urging the Council not to pass the expedited youth curfew proposal. We also urge you not to introduce or support a new curfew bill not requiring 6 votes to pass.
We agree with the reasons you’ve heard before:
- it’s ineffective: countless studies find no discernible effect of curfews on crime or even youth crime;
- it’s unnecessary. Crime is down! — and we already have laws to deal with disorderly conduct;
- and it’s unfair — it punishes many good young people for the feared misdeeds of a few bad ones.
Unfortunately, the proposed alternative – Councilman Andrews’s anti-loitering/’prowling’ bill promises no better. We hope you’ll decide not to see this as an “either or” choice, but a “neither nor” one.
Rather than being a better alternative to the youth curfew, the loitering bill is separately but equally ineffective, separately but equally unnecessary, and separately but equally unfair:
- because all a stopped person must do is concoct an explanation for the officer,
- because crime is down, and we already have a law against disorderly conduct,
- and because (as the ACLU of Maryland puts it) people simply have the right to walk and linger in public places.
Some may think a well-intentioned loitering law won’t be so bad. Like the youth curfew, perhaps it seems like more of a discretionary “tool” than something that will frequently result in an arrest charge.
But that’s a problem, too. Because it’s not just arrests that matter — it’s also the many unnecessary, humiliating stops that this law will (pretend to) authorize—all without suspicion of a specific crime.
And let’s please be honest with ourselves: those humiliations will happen far more often to some of us than to others.
We’d like to believe that restrictions of freedom of movement—whether as a curfew or as an anti-loitering law—are un-American. But they aren’t; they were a big way African Americans were oppressed before the Civil War — and then again during the long, vicious reign of Jim Crow. The 14th Amendment was passed in no small part to ensure that no one’s 4th Amendment rights could be infringed. We should not be undoing that in 21st century Montgomery County, even unintentionally. We’re better than that.
We don’t want gang fights or 7-11 robberies either. But again – as Councilman Andrews himself often points out: crime is down! If we’re worried about unsupervised youth with time on their hands, let’s create programs they can take part in. If we’re worried about specific places or times of day, let’s set up substations, let’s reassign police. If we’re worried about crime, let’s put our money where our mouth is by paying police the salaries and benefits they deserve for the jobs they do.
Meanwhile, though, and above all: let’s keep our rights intact. Police should always have to have probable cause to investigate someone for a specific crime. That’s both a matter of our rights and also, just practically, a matter of police not wasting their time or taxpayer dollars on hunches – now to be redefined as a “justifiable alarms” or snap evaluations of what a “law abiding person” might or might not do.
Let’s focus on fighting real crime, instead of wasting time on unjustified fears or vague apprehensions.
No to the curfew.
No to the loitering/”prowling” bill.
Yes to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Thomas Nephew, for the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition
EDITS, 11/9: some typos; “something that will frequently result in a” for “a frequent.”