On June 2, the Baltimore City Council passed a revision to the city's youth curfew law that imposes stricter curfew times and establishes increased penalties for parents or businesses found to be in violation of the law. Many in the Baltimore City community continue to oppose this revision of the law, concerned that it will impose a heavy burden on youth and parents.
The new law sets a year-round, nighttime curfew of 9 p.m. for anyone under the age of 14. For minors 14 or older, but younger than 17, the law establishes two nighttime curfews, one for the summer and one for the rest of the year.
During the summer, defined as running from the Friday before Memorial Day through the last Sunday in August, anyone 14 or older, but younger than 17, is subject to an 11 p.m. curfew on any night of the week. During the rest of the year, anyone in this age group is subject to an 11 p.m. curfew on Fridays and Saturdays, and a 10 p.m. curfew on all other days (Sunday through Thursday).
The new law also beefs up the city's daytime curfew, and prohibits anyone under the age of 16 from being in any public place or establishment between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on any day when school is in session.
The curfews do not apply to minors accompanied by their parents, or on the sidewalk running along the minor's residence or that of a next-door neighbor, so long as the neighbor has not complained to the police.
Parents are in violation of the curfew law if their child violates the curfew, whether given permission by the parent or not. Business owners can also be found in violation of the curfew law if they, or any of their employees, knowingly allow any minor on the premises of their establishment during curfew hours.
Parents are subject to a $50 fine for a first offense. This fine may be waived if the parent attends family counseling at an agency approved by the city, accompanied by the child who violated the curfew. Parents are subject to a fine of up to $500, imprisonment for up to 60 days, community service, or any combination of the three, for subsequent violations.
Business owners are subject to a fine up to $500 for any violation of the curfew law.
Sharon Black of the Baltimore People's Power Assembly, a group that opposes the new curfew law and joined a protest against it on the day the Council voted to pass the measure, expressed concern that the law would increase racial profiling. "In our own work, we were hearing a lot of reports from young people who felt they already suffered from racial profiling and just general profiling that goes on in poor communities who feel they have no recourse and no power," said Black.
Black argued that the law is likely to raise antagonisms between youth and the police, and noted the difficulty for police in even attempting to enforce the law.
"How do you decide who's 14 and who's 16? The demarcation between that is pretty hard to recognize," said Black.
Daniella Longchamps, a member of Fight Imperialism Stand Together, a group that will campaign against the law throughout the summer, also noted the difficulty in ascertaining the age of young persons. "You can't look at someone and know what their age is," said Longchamps. "I mean, people think I'm in high school all the time and I'm 27."
Longchamps would like to see more recreation centers and investment in youth mentoring programs rather than stricter curfew measures. "We've opened a youth jail and we've closed most of the rec centers … it seems really backwards," said Longchamps.
Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore City NAACP, feels that because the curfew will soon be law, attention needs to shift to how it is implemented and enforced. For Hill-Aston, the key is that any police engagement with minors in violation of the curfew must be governed by the fact that these are children, not criminals.
"I don't think that the police should just go around looking for children," said Hill-Aston in comments to the AFRO. "It should just be a situation that you bump into – and you see some children, or a child, out after the curfew, and you just need to know that they're safe and they're on their way home, or where they're going to and from, so they won't be in danger."