Nothing says freedom like an 8 p.m. curfew.
This year, officials in the city of Detroit took a break from centrally planning the economic destinies of 700,000 people to unveil a proposal to extend a citywide curfew for unsupervised youths ahead of this weekend’s River Days Festival, and Freedom Festival Fireworks display, held along the Detroit River.
The ordinance, which was expected to pass Tuesday, would have criminalized anyone out from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. under the age of 18, not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian – whom would have been required to provide identification if asked by police.
The festival consists of River Days, held Friday through Sunday, and a Freedom Festival fireworks event Monday, with the purposed curfew continuing to run from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. the following day.
If youth were caught unsupervised during curfew hours, they would have been subject to arrest, faced up to 90 days in jail, and fined upwards of $500.
That was until angry Detroit citizens and activists let the local government know that a Freedom Festival curfew will no longer be tolerated.
Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, says the curfew, which has been used during River Days in the past, violates the civil rights of young people.
“This ordinance creates a[n] [apartheid]-like, police controlled and monitored zone which restricts the movement of youth in the designated area,” Scott said. “This draconian measure flies in the face of the City of Detroit’s anti-profiling ordinance. It is ironic that it is being proposed at a time when America and Canada are celebrating their democratic traditions.”
Scott had urged “those who support the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution to stand up and stop repression and the criminalization of a generation.”
City Council members had also voiced a concern about how tourists visiting the city may be caught off guard by the measure.
“I wouldn’t want a kid, who is coming here from another city, and this is their experience in Detroit,” Councilwoman Andrea Spivey said. “That could have a traumatizing effect on the child.”
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the curfew was only meant to keep children safe and not stereotype or criminalize them.
“We want to stay focused on public safety and that’s it,” Craig said after the measure was unveiled. “We’re reaching out to the communities saying, ‘Look, we don’t want to detain young people but we are going to hold parents responsible.’”
Apparently the irony of locking down teenagers during a freedom festival was lost on Craig, but curfews are nothing new in Detroit.
The city already has a year-round curfew for minors that begins at 10 p.m. and lifts at 6 a.m. It has also instituted special curfews in the past, including one that’s been launched for 19 years for the three-day Devil’s Night period leading up to and including Halloween.
Also, as previously mentioned, curfews have been enforced during River Days before. Last year, over 100 minors were detained by Detroit police for violating the curfew on the night of the Freedom Fireworks event alone. That meant a potential extra $50,000 in fines for the department in just one day.
The ACLU said at the time that the ordinance “unconstitutionally criminalizes minors who are doing nothing wrong.”
“They can’t go to church, they can’t go to a youth group meeting, they can’t play basketball at the neighborhood court, they can’t do errands for their parents,” said Michael Steinberg, legal director for the ACLU of Michigan. “Even if their parents give them permission to leave the house, they’re essentially prisoners in their own home.”
A public hearing on the measure began Tuesday in the city at 2 p.m, but much to the chagrin of officers, citizens attended in droves at the opportunity of voicing their outrage.
Detroit NAACP president, Rev. Wendell Anthony excited the crowd and alluded to what he called “racial overtones” in the proposed legislation.
“Everyone should expect to have a fun, safe time with their friends and families when they attend events in the City,” Anthony said. “However, implementing a curfew that will unfairly target young people in the City of Detroit is not the most effective solution to these critical issues.”
Anthony added that the ordinance “could also give unnecessary credence to the often discussed issue of only targeting people of color in situations such as this.”
Other community leaders voiced their opposition as well.
“It’s unfair, unjust and unconstitutional,” said Rev. Dr. Tellis J. Chapman, pastor of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church. “We are asking for respect… Right now, we aren’t getting it. Quick fixes don’t fix big problems and we’ve got a big problem on our hands.”
After the public backlash, the Detroit City Council decided to do what was politically expedient and voted down the proposal by a close margin of 4-3.