09 December 2009

Juvenile Curfew for a Town With Nominal Juvenile Crime?

Yes, this is the town I live in. And I'll be honest that, as both a resident and a parent, I am actually angry about the fact that our city council is going ahead with discussions surrounding the topic of implementing a juvenile curfew here.

It's certainly not the first in the state of MA. The city of Lowell made news recently when the MA Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) struck down criminal charges for youth found to be violating the city imposed curfew, in effect since 1994.

In towns across the state where some form of juvenile curfew has been imposed, it has been in direct response to increased numbers of violent crimes committed by youthful offenders, but in Malden, MA, even the police chief has remained opposed to this idea. He cites the arrest of only 11 juveniles after 9 pm in the last year, out of 941 overall arrests (both juvenile and adult). Of the 941 total arrests, only 55 in total were of minors.

And I couldn't agree more with the police chief. I've gone round and round on this issue, both with citizen supporters and my ward councilor who is pushing this. The argument for has largely been that it gives parents an additional "weapon in their arsenal" when it comes to controlling their teens - rather than allow or trust the parents to, oh, I don't know...parent, they can now blame the gub'mint for why their child has to be in at a certain hour and thus deflect the blame from themselves as disciplinarians and boundary setters.

Um, no.

This is the flattest, lamest thing I've heard in a while. Do we have a crime problem? Yes. As with most urban areas, we do and yes, with the fall of the economy, the rise in drug abuse and spillover from neighboring towns with worse problems than ours, our rate of crime has gone up. At least, it's perceived by those of us who live here to be worse than it has been before and I can assure you that this is not the same town I lived in 18 years ago when it comes to crime.

The problem here is that the crimes are being committed by the over 18 crowd, particularly the violent crimes. So why are we punishing the kids?

When I was 16, I lived here. I was, for all intents and purposes, an emanicpated minor at that time. I rented an apartment with two roommates on Highland Avenue, worked a minimum wage job in Boston's Theater District and I was never heading home or to bed before midnight, even on a weeknight. It's safe to say that I got my partying done early in life and I was not a totally upstanding youthful citizen - but an enforced curfew at that time would have seriously hindered my ability to work the night shift (illegal, I'm sure, but I did it anyway - someone had to pay the bills). More than that, it would have royally pissed me off. If I was not a part of the problem in my community, and my peers were not serious contributors to the problem in my community, why the hell should we have been punished for what the "growed ups" were doing?!

I'm not, by nature, opposed to curfews in towns that have such serious issues with a given area or group of people that there is no other way to maintain some form of law and order. In August of last year, Helena, AR did just that with a 24-hour curfew in a 10-block radius. From my own perspective, based purely on news reports from different sources (really reliable, I know...), I would probably have agreed to this measure as a resident in that area - at least temporarily until things calmed down.

I understand that personal freedoms must occasionally be sacrificed for the greater good, whether of your family or community. But in this instance, here in my town, it's not asking for a desperate measure to restore peace in a violent town. It's throwing the kids under the bus and using them as scapegoats to placate some folks who can't differentiate between kids being kids and their parents who are actually the ones committing the crimes.

I've yet to see a teenager out and about at a silly hour in my 'hood, but I see adults on the corner dealing drugs and I see adults in the same nearby houses getting arrested several times a month on the apparent catch-and-release program instituted here.

As a parent now, I don't much worry about where my daughter is. Currently, she's on the floor popping bubble wrap and congratulating herself with each "pop". At 8 pm tonight, she'll be snuggled in her crib, either falling asleep or peeking out the window wishing all of the Christmas decorations on the street a good night. Loudly.

But I do worry about living in a community that's less interested in taking steps to actually curb and reduce the crime that will pose both temptation and danger to her as she grows older, and more interested in making her seem to be a part of the problem by taking away my rights as a parent to determine what's acceptable and when, and force her to be somewhere at a certain time. I worry about a community that will accept crime being swept under the rug, criminals being let go time and again, excuse after excuse made by city officials as to why this should be. I worry about a community that accepts and embraces the scapegoating of a largely innocent body of citizens who happen to act like total asses because, well, that's their job in life as adolescents. There's a huge difference between acting the ass and breaking the law.

Given the council's track record in passing really stupid and unenforceable legislation in this town, I expect this curfew to become law - yet another band-aid for a sucking chest wound, only this time, the band aid will have been placed nowhere near the chest, never mind the wound.


Uhura! said...

Seems like the curfew isn't targetting the right group of folks.

Julie said...

Phe, can you place a Moms in Charge link in your Links We Love section?


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