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‘Selective enforcement’ is no answer to curfew objections

There’s no need for a teen curfew

Selective enforcement. Every single defense that I’ve read of Montgomery County’s proposed teen curfew boils down to those two words. The curfew won’t be used against you or your kids. You’re the good ones who want to go to movies and eat dinner and have good, clean fun. The curfew is for the bad ones.

Well, that’s not what the bill says. The bill would apply to every person under age 18 in Montgomery County. The good ones (who, incidentally, make up the vast majority of teens) would be just as liable to be questioned about their age and charged with a misdemeanor. Even if they’re honor students. Even if they just wanted to make a late-night snack run. Even if they are nice and sweet and wouldn’t hurt a fly. This bill would make them suspects.

And when it comes to making the bad ones suspects, the ones who really deserve it, they already are. Every instance of misconduct cited by Officer Robert Carter in his Aug. 7 Local Opinions commentary is already illegal. Someone swearing in an excessively loud manner or making lewd comments is disturbing the peace. Someone stealing from you is guilty of theft. Under existing laws an officer could already easily arrest these people. Beyond the redundancy of a curfew, what about offenders who are 18 or older or who are acting outside of the proposed curfew hours?

So we’re left with a curfew law that would supposedly almost never be enforced and then be enforced only when people are already breaking other, more serious laws. At that point, why pass the law at all?

Those objecting to this curfew are not just a few spoiled kids upset that government wants to ruin their fun. We are kids, we are parents, we are those who are simply residents of Montgomery County. And we are upset that the government wants to place restrictions on the lives of an entire group of people for no benefit whatsoever.

A curfew, no matter how selectively enforced, will not reduce crime. It will not reduce victimization. It will not make people safer. We should be focusing on real solutions, the kind of solutions that have kept crime decreasing in Montgomery County for four years.

Abigail Burman, Silver Spring

The writer is lead coordinator of Stand Up to the Montgomery County Curfew.

The ACLU of Maryland has long opposed juvenile curfew ordinances because they violate the fundamental liberties of innocent people. They criminalize innocent conduct and infringe on the rights of young people and their parents. In Frederick County, where a juvenile curfew law was struck down in 1995, the data showed that it was enforced disproportionately against African American youth. “Bad kids” are those who actually do illegal things, for which they can be detained and arrested, with no need for curfew laws. But even the police, who are in charge of enforcing the laws, seem unable to differentiate between bad kids and merely annoying ones. That’s the best reason of all to reject a wrong-headed curfew law.

Melissa Goemann, Baltimore

The writer is legislative director for the American Civi l Liberties Union of Maryland.

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