The Case Against Curfews

Categories: Anti-Repression Committee, Front Page, Open Mic

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In light of Oakland Councilperson Noel Gallo’s recent fetish with the idea of curfews, here is an article published August 11th, 2012 in the Occupied Oakland Tribune (now inaccessible), when then Chief of Police Howard Jordan was spewing the same bullshit.

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By JP Massar

“Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan wants a curfew. In the widespread absence of appropriate “parental controls” Jordan says a curfew is critical to reduce the risks posed by teens and younger children hanging out late at night in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. He says he wants to assemble and lead a community-wide effort to get the City Council to pass a curfew ordinance before the end of the calendar year.” – Chip Johnson, columnist, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle 8/2/12

There is little factual basis for the idea that curfews have any significant effect on crime or safety. Furthermore, there has been no attempt that I have been able to find to discuss a balance between the restrictions on freedom and the inevitable harassment of young people that curfew laws mandate versus any alleged benefit. Curfew laws seem to exist because adults simply assume they are a good idea, and because police organizations support curfews.

Many curfew laws were imposed in the 1990s before there were any academic studies on curfews. Studies from 1998 to 2003 suggested that there was no measurable benefit to curfew laws. For example

“There is no support for the hypothesis that jurisdictions with curfews experience lower crime levels, accelerated youth crime reduction, or lower rates of juvenile violent death than jurisdictions without curfews.”  – (Males & Macallair, 1999)

and

“the evidence does not support the argument that curfews prevent crime and victimization. Juvenile crime and victimization are most likely to remain unchanged after implementation of curfew laws.”  – American Acadamy of Political and Social Science

In 2006 (with a 2010 revision) Patrick Kline at UC Berkeley published a paper which suggested that

“being subject to a curfew reduces the number of violent and property crimes committed by juveniles below the curfew age by approximately 10% in the year after enactment, with the effects intensifying substantially in subsequent years for violent crimes.”

If any kind of scientific rationale is presented to the Oakland City Council justifying a curfew this would probably be it. However a single paper, when two other studies suggest otherwise, should not make a convincing argument.

Curfews are widespread in the United States. Seventy-eight of the ninty-two largest cities in America have some sort of teenage curfew or another. Many of California’s biggest cities – Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco – have curfews. Given this, it is somewhat surprising that Oakland does not currently have a curfew law. Curfew laws generally restrict anyone below a certain age from being in public places, in vehicles or in ‘establishments’ during certain late-evening and early-morning hours. Restricted hours may differ on weekends from weekdays. Some curfew laws are also in effect during school hours.

Some cities in California that have enacted curfew laws have been careful to put in many exceptions to ward off constitutional challenges. These include:

  • being accompanied by a responsible adult.
  • being given authorization by a parent.
  • being on the way to or coming back from a job.
  • being on the way to or coming back from a movie.
  • dance, or similar activity.
  • being involved in a 1st amendment activity.
  • being ‘emancipated’ (e.g., married and/or otherwise on one’s own.
  • dealing with an emergency.
  • being in a car involved in ‘interstate travel.’

A curfew law with these kinds of exceptions was enacted in Dallas in 1991 and eventually upheld as constitutional by the Federal Appellate Court. An appeal of that decision to the Supreme Court was denied. Some curfew laws with these types of restrictions have been found unconstitutional by state courts (e.g., Rochester, NY) but the Dallas decision has put a damper on most challenges.

Without even going into the impositions curfew laws impose on teenagers targeted by curfew laws and their parents, there are at least three serious problems with imposing a curfew in general and specifically in Oakland.

  • Harassment of those not actually subject to the curfew.
  • Creation of more hostile police vs citizen interactions.
  • Increased potential for sexual harassment.

The most glaring problem with such laws is likely on those who are not technically subject to them: that is, those who are above the age limit set in the curfew but not old enough (or visibly aged enough) to not be a target of police out to enforce the law or use it as an excuse to stop people.

In one scenario described to the authors, an officer said that if he saw a “young looking” gang member, that person could be stopped to determine if he/she was in violation of the curfew. Even if the young person was an adult, the stop was “lawful” and anything produced as a result of the stop (e.g., weapons, drugs) would be lawfully seized.

Not only would such a Stop and Prove You Are 18 policy harass young adults, but there is indisputable evidence that similar policing tactics such as Stop and Frisk (de facto as in Oakland, or de jure as in New York City) end up being racially biased, leading to more and more people of color being incarcerated (C.f. The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander).

In Oakland, a related and even more tragic problem exists. Many young people of color in Oakland already regard the police as their enemy. Increasing the number of antagonistic interactions between police and young men will inevitably lead to further tragedy, such as happened to Alan Blueford, Derrick Gaines, Derrick Jones, Manuel Lopez and Ramarley Graham, all who ended up being chased by police and ultimately shot to death.

To give the police even more power beyond that which they already have
and abuse…

to Stop and Frisk Prove You Are 18 anyone who looks “youngish” (or whom a police officer can’t see well because it is dark, or simply claims he or she can’t see well) is to issue an almost certain death sentence to one or more young men in Oakland at the hands of the Oakland Police over the next years.

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We can look specifically at the case of Alan Blueford to see these problems. First, Alan, out past midnight, was 18 years old and therefore not subject to curfew laws. Yet without knowing him very few people could reasonably claim they were certain he was at least eighteen years of age (at least as I look at his now-famous photo to the right). Second, Alan likely ran because he was afraid of the police, like so many others in Oakland. Can there be any doubt that attempting to enforce curfew laws would result in even more stops and chases similar to those that resulted in Alan’s death?

There is yet another reason curfew laws are problematic. A recent NY Times editorial points out how NYPD uses its Stop and Frisk policy to harass and molest women.

Wendy Ruderman reported… about a little-discussed aspect of the program – the humiliating toll that it has taken on women, who say that male police officers have singled them out without cause for invasive searches and harassment.

Another young woman from Harlem Heights said police officers who claimed to be searching for a rapist interrupted her and two female friends, demanded identification and then patted her down.

Are we to believe that young women in Oakland would not be subject to similar treatment by Oakland’s police force, which has a history of sexual abuse charges to go along with its record of shooting unarmed men?

For all these reasons it is imperative that not only this curfew proposal be squashed, but that ways of reducing the de facto Stop and Frisk police powers that OPD has now must be put forth and enacted. As the New York Times editorial so succinctly put it

The longer those searches continue, the more public discontent will grow.

And, I will add, the more of Oakland’s young men will die.

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