We erred in saying this week that the Dumfries, Va., town council had voted a curfew for teen-agers. It took up the idea at its meeting earlier this month, but did not vote; it may make a decision next week.
LEST WE BE misunderstood in what follows, let us make clear where we stand vis-a-vis the Great Generational Divide. We agree fervently with those -- including, apparently, the town council of Dumfries, Va. -- that teen-agers can be a pain in the ear. Also that teen-agers can be, and occasionally are, boisterous and even rowdy. Let a group of them congregate in the neighborhood of an evening and, indeed, they may Misbehave.
But that is not a policy; it is simply a description of the state of nature (and the reach of modern amplification equipment). The question is what to do about it. And here, as you may have guessed, we part company with the Dumfries council members. For in response to complaints about the behavior of some of the town teen-agers (hanging around houses at night, making noise, playing loud music, in one case throwing a rock through a window), they have voted a curfew that would require anyone under the age of 18 to be home by 10 p.m. It is a bad idea.
Dumfries has 3,000 people and six police officers. The police chief says there is no way the six can enforce a curfew. Yet the town already uses a great deal of its budget to keep the six. Will it, to stamp out what is still only a nuisance, spend still more to hire a Clock Squad? Not likely.
Better to do it old-style. Forget anticipatory justice. Wait until some kids do something; then call the police. A curfew would be unfair to teen-agers who might have jobs at night and would penalize orderly teen-agers wanting simply to go to a movie. It would alienate the mature and most likely be ignored by the unruly. There are already plenty of laws on the books. The big secret of this society is that it doesn't punish indiscriminately and in advance.