I strongly object to legislation sponsored by D.C. Council member Frank Smith that would prohibit minors from attending late-night public establishments after 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and after 1:00 a.m. Saturday through Monday.
If passed, the legislation would not only violate the rights of young people, it would also discourage them from participating in organized activities. This legislation would only encourage those under 18 to hang out in the streets instead of in clubs, dance halls, movie theaters and public establishments. At least in the clubs and public halls these young people are under some minimal supervision. If the bill ends up putting them in the streets with nothing to do, it will create more problems than it's trying to solve.
Let's take the case of Celebrity Hall, the renowned go-go dance hall in Frank Smith's Ward 1 that is often cited as part of the problem and evidently motivated the council member to propose the curfew legislation. More than 100 persons were arrested outside Celebrity Hall on weekend nights and early mornings between February 1985 and January 1986. But 80 percent of those arrested were adults.
If we look at all juveniles arrested between October 1986 and June 1987, more than 80 percent were arrested between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. Less than 20 percent were arrested between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. More than two-thirds were arrested between noon and 10 p.m. Barely more than 10 percent were arrested between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. More than half were arrested between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Clearly, the late-night crowd is not what is causing the juvenile crime problem. The after-school crowd is. That's the time to apply a solution -- but the solution does not include more laws for the police to use against young people. The solution is after-school programs (both academic and recreational) that would encourage the participation of parents, community leaders, religious leaders, athletes or any role models within the community. We need participation from all parts of the community to help shape and mold our youths' future. The positive must outweigh the negative.
Laws were intended for the good of society, so let's keep it that way. There are some things -- like parental supervision -- that don't require legislation. Parents should deal with the growing problems among our youth by getting involved. A curfew won't do anything other than to make the problem worse by putting kids with nothing to do out on the streets.
-- Harry L. Thomas Jr. is vice president of the D.C. Young Democrats and a member of the Committee to Save Go-Go Music.