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Strict Baltimore curfew places minors in detention centers past bedtime

Published: June 8, 2014
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Curfew sign

Curfew sign

BALTIMORE, MD — The City Council of Baltimore voted to create one of the most stringent government curfew systems in the nation.  Under the new restrictions, youths will be legally permitted to appear in public for only a few hours per day.  Police may seize them on sight and take them to detention centers where they will be interrogated by social workers.  Parents face stiff fines and jail time if their children are discovered in public during curfew hours.

The ordinance passed the city council in a 13-2 vote last week, in favor of enhancing Baltimore’s curfew policies.   Supporters championed it as a step forward for safety and order.  But at what cost?

The restrictions can be summarized as follows:

Daytime Curfew

  • 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on weekdays — People under 16 years old subject to detention.

Evening Curfew

  • 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. any night — People under 14 years old subject to detention.
  • 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. on weekdays — People ages 14-16 subject to detention.
  • 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. on weekends and summer nights — People ages 14-16 subject to detention.

Without explicitly doing anything wrong, younger Americans can be scooped up by police officers and detained just for showing their faces in public.  They will be involuntarily taken to juvenile detention centers which the city affectionately calls “connection centers.”

While the minors won’t be arrested, their parents may be.  Possible penalties which may apply to parents of curfew-breaking children include $500 fines, mandatory family counseling sessions, and even up to 60 days in jail.  The ordinance can be read on the Maryland ALCU’s website.

Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes was one of only two votes against the curfew.  He described how enforcement could potentially take place:  “I’m not going to stop and tell your mom.  I’m not going to stop and tell your dad.  I’m going to take you right over to this juvenile detention center –  juvenile curfew center — whatever you want to call it. “

Once taken to the curfew centers, students will be questioned by social workers without their parents present.  They will be examined for reasons to justify further government intervention in their families.

“The child will be assessed by a community connector that determines if there are educational needs, substance abuse or counseling needs,” said Angela Johnese, who works for the mayor’s office.

Baltimore  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she intends to sign the city council’s bill.  Eventually she would like to place a “connection center” in each of the nine police districts.

While the curfew pleases many authoritarian-minded people, there was a vocal opposition that cited a number of compelling arguments against the curfew.  Citizens organized and even held rallies against the curfew law.

Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president of the neighborhood association in Baltimore, said on behalf of the group: “What we’re fearful of is that this is going to probably widen the gap between the community and the police. And right now, it’s not that good.”

“This issue with the curfew,” Cheatham added, is that “it is wrong, it is inappropriate at this time and we do not want to criminalize our children.”

Another compelling argument came from a representative of Baltimore’s Homeless Persons Representation Project, a NPO which represents homeless persons in court.  The group says that there are 2,400 homeless youth in Baltimore, and being rounded up by police for involuntary detention is unlikely to seem like an act of charity to them.

“I’m really concerned that this is going to push them farther into the shadows,” said Ingrid Lofgren, an attorney for the group.  “They’re already very hard for us to connect with, and a threat of increased police contact will make them even harder to find.”

Another unintended consequence of the law is that it pushes police to profile people based simply on their appearance.  This will cause police to approach and harass adults who may have a younger looking appearance; demanding that they produce an ID to prove that they are “allowed” to be out past the government-mandated bedtime.  Is there any greater way exemplification of a Nanny State mentality?

Beyond the impracticality of the curfew, the enforcement difficulties, the costs, and the unintended consequences, there is the argument that it infringes on the rights and freedoms of the individuals involved.  Rights do not begin arbitrarily when a person turns 18 years old.   A child’s curfew is a parenting matter.  Police should never be used as a substitute for mommy and daddy.

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