Groups Join in Opposition to Proposed Providence Curfew Ordinance
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Six community and civil rights organizations have urged the Providence City Council to reject a proposal from Councilman Davian Sanchez to institute a nighttime curfew for juveniles. In a letter to Council members, the groups said the proposal “makes every teenager out at night a criminal suspect.” The organizations – Youth in Action, Providence Youth Student Movement, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, the Rhode Island ACLU, Olneyville Neighborhood Association, and the Univocal Legislative Minority Advisory Coalition, acknowledged the good intentions behind the proposal, but said “its enactment will exacerbate community relations between the police and the city’s youth.” Excerpts from the letter appear below:
[Juvenile curfew ordinances] make perfectly innocent activity – walking, talking or traveling outside – illegal. By doing so, they give police virtually unbridled discretion to stop, detain, harass and search teenagers. This can only encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. After all, since the only determinant of whether a person is committing this ‘offense’ is whether he or she is a certain age, police can stop any young-looking person they choose as a potential violator and demand proof of their age. Since such proof is something that many youth are unlikely to have, brief stops can escalate into confrontational encounters, creating crimes where none existed before…
“Curfew ordinances are generally ineffective in any event. To the extent they are designed to address juvenile crime, teenagers engaged in gang or other criminal activities will either ignore the curfew or change their time of doing business; it is the thousands of law-abiding teenagers who truly end up getting punished. Further, studies have consistently demonstrated that the majority of juvenile crime occurs after school hours, not late at night, and, as a federal report notes, ‘afterschool programs have more crime reduction potential than do juvenile curfews.’
“We certainly understand the City’s interest in seeking to protect teenagers from violence at night, but it should be up to parents, not police, to enforce curfews for their children, and for police to instead focus on enforcing the criminal laws on the books. Police time that is spent looking for, and demanding identification from, young people after some arbitrary nighttime hour arrives is time spent not actually monitoring and patrolling the community for actual criminal conduct…
“Recent initiatives announced from the Mayor’s office – such as working to increase funding and expand programming for recreation centers and other youth programs– will do far more to both help the City’s youth and reduce crime. Enactment of a curfew ordinance will undercut those efforts.
A copy of the full letter to the Council is available online at www.riaclu.org.
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