“My hunch is that’s not a good crowd,” Montgomery County police Lt. Robert Carter said, calling into his radio to alert fellow officers to keep track of them.
For 38 minutes they watched. The group made its way to Dixon Avenue, a darkened street just off the main strip. Officers confronted them and started asking questions. Just a month earlier on those same streets, more than 50 young men, many of them gang members, got into nighttime brawls that lasted hours. When police chased them from one spot, the group gathered a few blocks away and kept fighting. By the end, a female had been stabbed.
That melee pushed Montgomery’s top elected official, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), to propose a countywide curfew for ages 17 and younger: midnight on weekends, 11 p.m. during the week.
Police say that there’s been an uptick in arrests of juveniles and that a curfew law would give officers a valuable tool to head off trouble. Neighboring Prince George’s County and the District have curfews, which police say are pushing more youths into Montgomery late at night. Philadelphia officials recently toughened their teen curfew to tamp down on flash mobs.
But others in Montgomery say a curfew is an overreaction, wouldn’t be effective and — at its worst — could lead to racial profiling. Most crimes committed nationwide by young people don’t occur late at night, research has shown. The same holds true in Montgomery, where 92 percent of assaults and 83 percent of robberies for which juveniles were arrested last year happened outside the proposed curfew’s hours.
As the Montgomery County Council prepares to vote on the measure this fall, the debate is intensifying.
“Parents are divided on this issue between those who believe it is an unnecessary intrusion into how they raise their children and parents who believe it will make the community safer,” said council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), a curfew skeptic.
On Wednesday, Leggett proposed amendments to the bill to tone it down. Youths coming home from movies, concerts and sporting events would be exempted. Rather than detain curfew violators, the officers would issue a civil citation, punishable by a fine of up to $100 for the first offense. Then, if the kids don’t go, officers could arrest them for failing to obey a lawful order. Forcing parents of curfew violators to attend parenting classes is no longer part of the proposed curfew.
When officers approached the group on Dixon Avenue, the teenagers answered questions and had their pockets searched and their tattoos photographed. Police found no weapons or drugs and didn’t charge anyone.
“They just automatically assumed we were thugs, or we were about to cause some trouble or go fight,” said Mike Brown, 18, a James Hubert Blake High School student who ended his junior year with a 3.1 GPA and thinks the youths were targeted because they are black.