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Madison’s Proposed Curfew Law Bad Idea

May 4, 2009

UPDATE

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.

4 Comments
  1. madtownguy permalink
    May 6, 2009 11:02 AM

    I have no problem with the 10 p.m. curfew. We can bring back the old 60s PSAs, “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” And, I think the proposal has exemptions like travel to and from jobs.

  2. May 4, 2009 9:45 PM

    Al, I agree with you for the most part. Thanks for writing. Let me add a few more things I would do if I were a parent.

    Read to kids from day one. Have lots of books of all types at home. Eat meals together, and on time. I have a sibling who does not feed the kids until after all the work is done and in summer that means after the sun sets and the gardening is done for the day. The kids are way too hungry by then and way tired. Tell kids they have an open line of conversation at all times, and demonstrate it by starting chats about open-ended topics. Let kids know you love them unconditionally. Whoever they are is fine. Limit offensive songs in the house, car, mp3 etc. I grew up without cussing for lyrics and think I came out OK.

  3. May 4, 2009 7:50 PM

    I find this line to be extremely ironic coming from you: “Let us not forget that if we have a problem with juvenile crime, we first had a breakdown of the family structure.” That is a line that any conservative would certainly agree with, Bishop Morlino being foremost among them. Did you have some sort of epiphany in the last few days?

    Seriously, though, if people like yourself on the left also think the family structure is being weakened, what’s your alternative proposal to strengthen it? If it involves making divorce harder, I’m all for it. There’s a legitimate state interest in keeping parents together and creating a stable home environment. That’s why the state recognizes marriage in the first place–to provide stability for raising biological children. I would certainly support going back to fault divorce or at least having a 4-6 year waiting period for remarriage. It could be waived for victims of emotional or physical abuse, maybe even doubled for perpetrators of such abuse.

    If it involves strengthening labor rights so that only one parent needs to work full time and one only has to work part time or not at all and thus can spend more time with their kids, I’m all for that too. It doesn’t even matter to me whether it’s the mother or father that is home more often. Couples should work that out based on their individual circumstances, without regard for what is “politically correct” on either the right or the left.

  4. May 4, 2009 6:59 AM

    Further this is an example of just how easy it is to discriminate against folks who aren’t allowed to vote.

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