Please note that the ordinance is calling for a change in the curfew from 11pm to 10pm for youth ages 12-15 on Sunday-Thursday evenings with an exception for returning home from work or an organized school activity. Originally the ordinance was as I have described, but it got changed a couple weeks ago. Still is a wrong approach to a city problem.
This weekend a small group of teenagers were enjoying themselves quietly, and politely while skateboarding on the top of the B.B. Clarke Beach House on the Isthmus. Granted, it was not the first place I would have thought best suited for this, but then again I am in my 40’s. After a few minutes of back-and-forth on the roof that seems somewhat suited for the sport given its angles and slopes, I noticed a police car had stopped to warn the kids away. Apparently someone had called to make sure these kids were brought into line.
That is perhaps a strange way to start with the issue of the proposed Madison curfew, but I think it sums up the whole debate. The teenagers mentioned above are, I think, reflective of the majority of Madison’s youth. They are energetic, fun-loving, and law-abiding. The largest percentage of our youth can make at times less than perfect decisions (as in using the roof) but they are not taggers, gang-bangers, druggies, or violent in any way. Yet all of Madison’s youth are about to be treated as if they all were a part of the lowest common denominator class of would-be criminals. And I object to that.
On Tuesday, May 5th a city ordinance sponsored by Alds. Thuy Pham-Remmele and Jed Sanborn will be debated at the Madison City Council. (That combination of sponsors should be enough to give most reason for concern.) In short, the proposal sets the curfew for teenagers under age 17 up one hour to 10 p.m. from 11 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday, and to 11 p.m. from midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
The issue of juvenile crime is indeed an important concern for our city. I harbor no softness for gang activity, or the drug culture that is so closely embedded with it. I think tagging and graffiti are an insult to the business owners, and citizens of Madison. But limiting the movement of an honor student walking home from a job, or a group of guys shooting hoops on a hot summer night seems like we are heading in the opposite direction of finding a solution to the initial problems. These kids are not the ones who are to blame for the crimes, yet they will feel the punitive effect of the ordinance.
From a general public policy perspective I do not like to see the police target any demographic, and view them suspiciously for just ‘being’ somewhere. Needing to justify to the police why someone is walking home after work, or after an evening with a teenage sweetheart, is really just not the direction I want our city to take. But by toughening the present curfew that is exactly what will happen.
Perhaps instead of a policy of strengthening the city curfew we need to point the finger at the parents who have kids. After all, it is the parents who should know where their kids are, which friends they hang out with, and what activities they like to engage in. This type of information can be obtained by having conversations with children after having created a good parent/child relationship over the years. I know plenty of kids that I would trust to be the same at 6:00 P.M. as they would at 11:00 P.M. That does not just miraculouslyhappen. It develops over time due to good parenting. Let us not forget that if we have a problem with juvenile crime, we first had a breakdown of the family structure.
Needless to say there are no easy answers to juvenile crime, and the effects it has on the city. I understand that fully. But I also know there is no justification for the umbrella approach of placing all of our youth under this far too restrictive proposal.
I urge people to call their city alders and work to defeat this awful idea.