Local governments, from Kennesaw, Georgia to Benicia, California, are jumping on the curfew bandwagon as a way to tighten control of the citizenry. While late-night/early-morning curfews for children have been employed for decades as a way to limit gang and other youth-based violence — often unsuccessfully — the latest, 21st-Century iteration is to extend the concept to daytime hours. For example, city leaders in Kennesaw recently extended the hours during which a person under 18 years of age may lawfully traverse its streets and other public areas to include the hours from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM (those 17 and under already were prohibited from being seen in public without a good excuse anytime after midnight and before 5:00 AM). Now in this particular city — whose website proudly proclaims itself one of the “10 Best Towns for Families” because it is so family-friendly — a young person is able to appear in public free from suspicion and without being subject to detention by the police, for only 13 hours during any 24-hour day. Gives new meaning to what is considered “friendly.”
It’s not only small towns that are deciding that someone under 18 is inherently suspect and subject to arrest for doing nothing more than walking down a street in broad daylight. For example, the Texas megalopolis of Dallas is to vote on a similar ordinance this month. Unlike nightime curfews, which are almost always premised on at least a colorable (though not necessarily sound) argument that a teenager walking down a street in the wee hours of the morning is evidence of problematic behavior, banning an entire segment of the population from being seen in public in the middle of the day carries no such credibility. The best argument that a proponent of the Dallas ordinance could come up with was that such a curfew will “help” police crack down on crimes “associated with truancy.”
It’s clear that the rationale for daytime curfews is really nothing more than another “preemptive” government power.
Yes, prohibiting people of whatever age from appearing in puiblic will in a sense “assist police” in the same way that banning an entire class of people from driving may assist in reducing automobile accidents. But such an approach, while making the job of law enforcement perhaps easier, turns the notion of a presumption of innocence on its head. Moreover, such laws reflect an approach to law enforcement based not on limited police powers targetted at actual evidence of criminal activity, but rather a system that criminalizes an entire class of persons simply to catch a much smaller group that actually breaks the law. This happens to be the approach favored by gun control advocates, for example, who seek to limit the ability of all citizens to defend themselves, simply because a tiny percentage of firearms owners abuse the right to keep and bear arms. Further example of such preemptive law enforcement can be seen in the notion championed by the federal government in recent years that because an occasional phone call might contain evidence of possible criminal acctions, entire classes of phone calls (such as all international calls) shall be subject to warrantless surveillance.
This philosophy of governance is deeply destructive of our fundamental civil liberties, and does not even represent a sound criteria for law enforcement. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it seems to be more and more the preferred course for governments at all levels.