In the beginning, God made children, and He saw that they were wonderful, obedient and loving creatures. Unfortunately, He noticed a particularly disturbing problem -- without guidance they would wander and fall off the cliff. So God decided to make parents, because without parental supervision, children would never be taught right from wrong.
What began as a question of whether young people should be allowed to stay out all night long in dance halls has escalated into an argument over the responsibility of parents and society at large to establish rules setting limits.
Let's clear the air: the legislation I am sponsoring in the D.C. Council would affect the operating licenses of public-hall owners and managers who allow minors under 18 to patronize their establishments after 11:30 p.m. weekdays and after 1:00 a.m. on weekends without a chaperone. Teens on the streets after these times would not be arrested. Thus, the legislation is not a curfew bill.
Most young people do what we expect of them and attend school every day, do their homework and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Case in point: high school students attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Banneker Model Academic and Ballou Math & Science typically board a bus at 6:30 a.m. so they will arrive in the classroom by 8 a.m. In order to do this, they must go to bed early. There is no doubt in my mind that kids who discipline themselves at an early age will succeed in their future endeavors. These students do not hang out all night in public halls. Many attend these dances or "go-go's" at an earlier hour, since their parents do not allow them to stay out late.
Statistics show that drugs are closely related to all crimes committed in the District. In 1981, the metropolitan police reported that 343 youths were arrested on drug charges. In 1986, the figures nearly quadrupled, with 1,222 youth arrests. The debate has centered largely on the disturbing pattern of violence and drug use associated with certain dance halls that cater to the very young. On Jan. 23, 1987, the 3rd District reported a shooting at 3 a.m. outside the Masonic Temple on U Street NW, which left four youths wounded. Another incident outside the same dance hall in April left 11 persons injured, victims of a shooting at 5 a.m. On Aug. 23, seven people were shot in two separate incidents that began at Celebrity Hall, 3401 Georgia Ave. NW.
The debate has also created tensions among a handful of teen-agers who wish to do whatever they want. This is not surprising. Go-go bands and club owners who cater to youth and subsequently make thousands of dollars from proceeds oppose this legislation. Again, that is not surprising. Although they argue that their facilities are drug-free, witnesses have reported that known drug pushers habitually line the streets in fancy new cars, wearing expensive jewelry and designer jogging suits, waiting to sell drugs to our youth. Drug peddlers from D.C., Maryland, Virginia and as far away as Pennsylvania and New York have discovered that dance halls are a prime market to sell their wares. Shootings are commonplace in these areas as drug peddlers flock to these clubs in droves. Competition to sell drugs intensifies, reaching climactic proportions.
Politicians are often faced with decisions that affect the mainstay of society. We have laws governing the drinking age, rules stating that drivers must be at least 16 years old and restrictions prohibiting minors from viewing X-rated movies. Children are required to attend public school until they are 17. My legislation is designed to protect kids from dangers such as drugs and violence. Government should protect citizens by setting standards for adults and youth alike. -- Frank Smith Jr. is a D.C. Council member from Ward 1.