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Jewish World Review May 15, 2001 / 22 Iyar, 5761

Jill "J.R." Labbe

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Consumer Reports

Yes, Virginia, even teens have freedom of movement and assembly -- Curfews have been a part of society for centuries. Historically, they have been initiated by the upper class to curtail the movements of the lower class, whence the ne'er-do-wells who commit unsavory acts have sprung.

A curfew was -- and is -- the preemptive strike against crime.

It's exactly what the powerful used against the powerless in the Old South. Slaves and free blacks alike were regulated in what time they could be on the streets.

And curfews today, as they have always done, assume an entire group of people to be guilty of something.

Just read what Fort Worth , Texas police Lt. Duane Paul had to say about Cowtown's 6-year-old teen curfew, up for renewal by the City Council: "If we hadn't had the enforcement we had, you can only imagine how much more the crime rate would have gone up or the number of arrests we would have made of juveniles."

Well, lieutenant, it's tough to prove a negative but easy to make assumptions.

It's worth reminding the Fort Worth Police Department and the City Council that the applicability of the U.S. Constitution doesn't kick in when someone reaches age 17. Liberty and justice are supposed to be for all.

Yet curfews, on their face, limit a person's right to free movement and right to freely assemble.

Fort Worth's curfew bars anyone under 17 (with a few exceptions) from being in public between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and after midnight Friday and Saturday until 6 a.m. the next morning. Teens and their parents may be fined up to $500 a day for breaking it.

Being young and outdoors shouldn't be a crime, yet curfew ordinances criminalize behavior that isn't criminal. It's age discrimination in its purest form, punishing innocent people simply because they are young.

Curfew proponents, including Police Chief Ralph Mendoza, view the ordinance as a "tool" for parents who are unable to control their children. If you can't get your kids to obey you, then tell them that staying at home during certain hours is the law, Mendoza said last week in a meeting with the `Star-Telegram Editorial Board.

Great. Just what we need to do -- instill even more dislike for the police in today's youth.

Teen curfews -- which punish all for the problems created by a few -- shatter the kind of trust that we'd like young people to have in law enforcement. Instead, they build upon the antagonism between police and youth, making even the "good kids" afraid of running into an officer after dark.

And speaking of good kids, curfews remove the discretion from parents to be able to treat their children in a manner that shows respect and trust. Contrary to the beliefs of proponents of the Nanny State, there are plenty of parents who are engaged and involved with their children. They -- not the government -- should be negotiating what time the children have to be home.

If my child gets good grades, has a good track record about letting me know where she'll be and whom she's hanging out with, and calls if she's going to be late, then I should be able to decide whether she can stay out until 11:30 on a Thursday night during spring break -- not the City Council.

Curfew supporters don't deny that the law restricts people's freedom. But the restrictions are worth it, they argue. In exchange for giving up some liberty, citizens have enjoyed more public safety. But empirical

evidence doesn't support the premise that a curfew increases safety, mainly because juvenile crime occurs from 3 to 10 p.m. In the January 1999 issue of `Crime & Delinquency,' Craig Hemmens of Boise State University and Katherine Bennett of Armstrong Atlantic State University reported that their research indicated that less than one-fifth of violent juvenile crime took place during normal curfew hours.

Americans who understand this nation's history should always question any law that curtails freedom -- even freedom for youngsters.

JWR contributor Jill "J.R." Labbe is senior editorial writer and columnist for the Star-Telegram . Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Jill "J.R." Labbe