Officials in Baltimore are convinced that a strict curfew on the city’s youth could keep them out of harm’s way, but residents believe the new law could do more harm than good.
Baltimore has been plagued with violent crimes, and the high number of shootings has earned the city an unfortunate nickname – “Bulletmore.”
Law enforcement officials say they are trying to focus on violent offenders, but in the meantime they want young people off the streets after a certain time.
The new curfew would go into effect Aug. 8, and would require that children under the age of 14 be at home by 9 p.m. year-round.
Teens between the ages of 14 and 16 would have until 10 p.m. to get home on school nights, and 11 p.m. on weekends.
Young people who are at least 17 would be able to stay out until 11 p.m. on weeknights, and until midnight on the weekends.
Community critics claim that law enforcement officials are trying to criminalize Black youth and funnel them into the criminal justice system.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that is most certainly not the case.
“This is not about criminalizing young Black children, but to reach them before the only option for them is law enforcement,” she said during a forum with about 100 residents last week.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told the disgruntled residents that he often sees children out riding their bikes as late as 3 a.m., and he doesn’t believe it is safe for them to be out at that time.
“They should not be out there, and you should be honest about that,” he said.
One resident expressed concerns that parents could lose their jobs if they are forced to pick up their children from a curfew center whenever the youngsters leave the house after a certain time.
The mayor reminded the resident that being a parent is a “24-hours-a-day” job, and that parents cannot “cast off” difficult responsibilities.
In spite of the mayor’s assurances, the audience made it clear that they did not support the law.
According to Gulf Times, the forum was interrupted several times by shouting, and members of the leftist group Fight Imperialism Stand Together began chanting “No new curfew.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland argued that the new curfew would also place an additional burden on police officers, who have not been given clear instructions on how to enforce such a law.
Baltimore has one of the highest rates of violent crimes in U.S. cities, with more than 200 murders taking place in 2012, according to FBI statistics.
So far this year there have been 116 murders in the city, down 14 percent from the same period last year, but still considered extremely high compared to other major U.S. cities.