By Andrew Koch
Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts hosted the second of two community forums on the city’s new youth curfew on July 29 in the University of Baltimore Law Center’s Moot Court. The forum, which followed one that was held eight days earlier at Morgan State University, got contentious at times.
The curfew legislation was sponsored by City Councilman Brandon Scott, who felt that the curfew law that’s been on the books for the last 20 years, since he was a boy, needed to be updated for the culture of 2014.
“The curfew that we had was outdated, it didn’t make sense. We were able to lock parents up for a curfew, which didn’t make sense,” Councilman Scott said. “We had five-year-olds and 16-year-olds having the same curfew, which doesn’t make sense, and having the same curfew when school is out and when school is in session.”
The curfew was approved by the City Council in early June, and will go into effect on Aug 8. It’s widely considered to be one of the strictest in the country. However, Councilman Scott said that earlier this year he traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to see how the city government enforced its youth curfew. He says Kansas City’s curfew is much stricter than the one that’s going into effect in Baltimore. However, opposition to the law is being led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
Under the law, there are curfews for both daytime and nighttime. During the day, children under the age of 16 aren’t allowed to be in any public places or establishments between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on school days. The exceptions are when the child is accompanied by a parent, guardian or responsible adult, has written proof from school officials excusing attendance, or is traveling to or from school. The nighttime curfew is more complex.
At night, children under the age of 14 can’t be in public places or establishments from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. any night of the week. Young people between the ages of 14 and under 17 can’t be out in public between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights during the school year, and between 11 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekends during the school year, and any night of the week during the summer. Summer is defined as 12:01 a.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day to midnight on the last Sunday in August. The nighttime curfew doesn’t apply when a young person is accompanied by a parent or guardian, is on the sidewalk near his or her or a neighbor’s residence, is traveling to or from a job, or is exercising First Amendment rights. Other exceptions include being involved in an emergency, doing interstate travel in a vehicle, and attending official school, religious and other recreational activities that have adult supervision, and are sponsored by civic organizations or the City of Baltimore that are taking responsibility for the young people.
Minors who are found by police out on the streets when they shouldn’t be will be brought to Youth Connection Centers at either the Lillian Jones recreation center in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in West Baltimore, or the Collington Square recreation center in the Broadway East section of East Baltimore, according to The Baltimore Sun. At that point, officers will try to get in touch with parents or guardians to take them home. If a parent or guardian can’t be contacted, children who are brought to the Youth Connection Centers will then be referred to the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. Parents and guardians will be fined between $30 and $500, but those fines can be waived if they complete approved counseling, which is being referred to as “parenting classes.”
Mayor Rawlings-Blake said the new curfew law isn’t being implemented because residents are scared of the kids who are out in the streets late at night in their neighborhoods, but rather because they’re concerned for their well-being. “It’s not about afraid of the kids, it’s about concern that these kids are out there making themselves vulnerable to be in harm’s way,” Rawlings-Blake said.
She added that as the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, she doesn’t want her daughter being out at all hours of the night either harming others or causing harm to herself because “she doesn’t have enough sense” to be out on her own at those times of night.
Jerome Alexander of the Greater Baltimore Leadership Association said he would like to see the curfew be developed more before being implemented. His comments during the forum drew a round of applause. He says he’d like to see the return of an old program that many 20-and 30-somethings remember from when they were in school.
“I think there needs to be an implementation of the ‘Officer Friendly’ program, even if it’s not the exact same thing,” Alexander said. “But if they brought it back where every police officer had a mandatory hour or two per week or per month where they visited a local school.”
He said there are a lot of officers in the police department who live in the city, and know the neighborhoods very well.
Tessa Hill, the President of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, said the group’s biggest concern with the curfew is how officers who are on patrol deal with the young people they encounter on the streets.
“Make sure that the police out in the street, that the ones that will come in contact with the youth, do not aggressively … touch them or do anything that’s wrong, thinking that they are a criminal that they wanted yesterday,” Hill said. “They’ve got to make sure that they are sensitized to the fact that these are children that might be coming from homes with problems.”
According to a city pamphlet about the curfew that was available at the forum, officers are undergoing training on unbiased policing and youth strategies for law enforcement.
Prior to the start of the forum, a group of protesters were demonstrating outside the Law Center. They were holding up and waving signs and chanting phrases such as “What do we want?”; “Jobs and Education”; “When do we want them?”; “NOW”; and “Open Rec Centers, Not Detention Centers.”
During the forum, Police Com- missioner Batts described how he witnessed gang violence and saw things that children shouldn’t see in the rough South Central section of Los Angeles. He explained how his parents would make him come inside around sunset so he wouldn’t get into trouble. He told the audience that while driving around in Baltimore, he was “shocked” to see kids that he estimated ranged in age from 11 to 13 riding their bikes in the street at 3 and 4 a.m. on weekend nights.
Several times during the forum, people in the audience expressed their frustration at what they perceived as some being allowed to speak as long as they wanted, including the panel, while others were cut short and not allowed to fully ask their questions. That prompted moderator Gussener Augustus, Jr. of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods to remind the audience of the rules for the forum, and asking people to leave if they couldn’t conduct themselves accordingly. As the forum drew to a close, the same group of protesters that had been demonstrating in front of the Law Center expressed their disdain by once again chanting “Open Rec Centers, Not Detention Centers.”