Mayor Williams should be grounded

September 7, 2006

On Aug. 30th, Mayor Anthony Williams made the disappointing decision to renew a seven-days-a-week 10 p.m. curfew for District residents 16 and under until Sept. 28th. The curfew, which is two hours earlier than under the old law, was passed as part of this summer’s crime emergency bill. While the recent spike in crime is troubling, this unneccessarily stringent curfew is an ineffective solution.

Instead of cutting down on violent crime, this misguided effort wastes police officers’ time and effort by targeting often-innocent kids and their parents, who have to deal with the repercussions of having their children picked up on a curfew violation. Children under twelve and teens who have not been claimed by 6 a.m. are transferred to the Child and Family Services Agency. The hassles don’t stop there—violators can be sentenced to a whopping 25 hours of community service, perhaps for only a few minutes of tardiness.

Think back a couple of years. As college students, we aren’t nearly far enough in age from these kids to adopt the overly cautious attitude favored by the mayor and the City Council. When you can still remember your sixteenth birthday clearly but are horrified at the thought of your thirtieth, you know that 10 p.m. is early by high school standards, even for kids who aren’t doing anything illegal.

The city government is right to be concerned about kids joining gangs, one of their ostensible justifications for the curfew, but gangs can roam high school hallways in broad daylight, too. Stopping teenagers from committing crimes is an important goal, but keeping them inside for an extra two hours a night isn’t the way to do it. Enforcing the curfew just takes scarce and valuable Police Department resources away from fighting actual crime, either juvenile or adult. After all, most of the District’s crimes are committed not by kids out past their bedtime, but by adults with no restrictions on their freedom. Three of the four suspects in the District’s most high-profile summer murder—Alan Senitt’s death by throat slashing right here in Georgetown—were 22, 25 and 26.

The number of violators caught under the new curfew has soared. Between Aug. 14 and 20, 331 kids were caught, up from 137 during the same week last year, according to The Washington Post. During that same week, crime was down from last year, but there is no published data revealing the ages of last year’s perpetrators—they could have been 16 or 116. Keeping D.C. safe should be a major priority for the mayor, but instituting a petty, ageist time-out system isn’t the way to do it.

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The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!

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