July 23, 2011

How strongly have Montgomery residents objected to the curfew being pushed by county officials and police?

Within a week of the proposal, an anti-curfew Facebook campaign that I helped organize with three other teenagers had attracted the support of more than 5,000 residents, parents and public officials. That’s an achievement that would make an established organizer green with envy.

We object to the basic idea of a curfew on several levels and believe that regardless of the language proposed, a curfew will ultimately cause irreparable damage to police-community relations. Ironically, though we are portrayed as a group of frustrated teenagers, we seem to have a far more comprehensive understanding of the likely impact of this curfew than do many of its supporters.

First of all, the curfew lacks an exemption regarding “a place of public entertainment, such as a movie, play or sporting event” — language that neighboring Prince George’s County, cited as an inspiration for the plan, has in its law. We also have raised concerns about the loss of revenue for many local businesses. One obvious example: Much of the revenue earned by local businesses and restaurants from late-night moviegoers during last week’s “Harry Potter” premiere would have been lost under a curfew. Obviously, by preventing teens from attending such events without parental supervision, a curfew discourages their patronage.

Much more problematic is the fact that curfews fail to address the causes of juvenile delinquency. Most juvenile crimes occur in the late afternoon, and studies tracked by the National Youth Rights Association suggest that no statistically significant correlation exists between increased curfew enforcement and decreased juvenile crime. Despite the problems that occurred in Silver Spring on the Fourth of July, which The Post cited in its editorial backing a curfew, crime is down, and taxpayer dollars spent on an ineffective “tool” would be better directed toward youth programs. Just one day after the curfew was proposed, County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger reported a 4.6 percent decrease in crime during the first quarter of 2011, including a 3.6 percent decrease in Part II Crimes, a category that includes juvenile offenses.

Finally, there is the basic issue of fairness. It is disconcerting that Montgomery County feels the need to criminalize an entire demographic based on the actions of a minority of that demographic. On top of that, a curfew raises inevitable concerns about age and racial profiling. Chief Manger has said that “we are fortunate to live in a community where the residents trust the police department.” Yet isn’t it likely that this law would only foster deep distrust in teenagers toward the police and government?

County leaders should be cognizant of the compelling arguments being made by the young leaders of the anti-curfew movement. If today’s children are the future, then it’s time for us as a county to conquer our irrational fear of the dark, and begin to truly listen to what the youth have to say.

The writer is the student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education.