Last week, County Executive Ike Leggett proposed setting a curfew for young people under 18, preventing them from being out in public after 11 during the week and midnight on weekends. Though Leggett says the measure will curb gang violence, police statistics show that crime in Montgomery County has been dropping for years. Not surprisingly, the public is skeptical: the Gazette ran an editorial saying there are "too many questions" about the curfew to implement it now, while a "Stand Up to the MoCo Youth Curfew" Facebook group has 4,777 members as of this morning.
The following is a guest post from Abigail Burman, one of the group's four organizers who's also appearing on the Kojo Nnamdi Show today. She grew up in Silver Spring, attended from Richard Montgomery High School, and has some alternatives to dealing with youth crime that don't penalize all teenagers. Take it away:
I understand that people are upset. There are bad people in the world, and we hear about the bad things they do. We hear about gang violence, and delinquent youths, and damaged property. And I understand that this fear may make curfews seem like a good idea. But we can’t give in to fear. Because the final sign that criminals have beaten us is when they manage to convince us that we should confine a large segment of our population for no reason other than their age. At that point they’ve gotten us to shut people out of their own communities.
And communities are a powerful, powerful thing. As Dan pointed out, creating more gathering spaces helps teens turn their attention to constructive and safe pastimes, and public spaces create social pressure to act within the law. But there are other ways the community of Montgomery County can engage teens. Although elected officials and adults are constantly worrying about gang activity and delinquency among kids, they almost never involve the actual kids in these discussions.
There have been concerns about gang activity and other crimes at nearly every MCPS school I’ve attended, but the only time I remember a teacher talking to the students about these problems is a health class spent listening to a series of bloody urban myths about gang initiations. My classmates and I were left cringing or bored, not engaged in solving a problem that was affecting us just as much, if not more than, the adults.
In California, the Gang Violence Suppression Program helps communities fight crime while showing young people another way. The state-wide program provides grants for local governments to ramp up law enforcement and prosecution, while giving parents, teachers and at-risk youth tools to prevent the growth of gangs. This method was highly successful, because it allowed community leaders to fight gangs while showing young people meaningful alternatives to gang involvement.
The lesson: if you empower teens to make the choice to not break the law, they'll encourage their friends to do the same. Invest them in the community so they’re less likely to want to damage it. And when teens trust law enforcement and government officials, when they care about where they live, the two groups can work together to make the county a safer place to live, instead of enacting a curfew that would alienate all youths in the name of penalizing a few.
With young people and adults working together, it will be much easier to combat youthcrime in a way that, unlike a curfew of questionable legality and efficacy, has been shown to work. Dan mentioned that crime has been going down in Montgomery County. A closer look at police statistics from this year reveals that Part II offenses (which include juvenile crime) have gone down as arrests for Part II offenses has gone up. We don't need a curfew to reduce crime when existing laws are already doing so. It's clear we just need to step up their enforcement.
If you’d like to join us in opposing the curfew, we would love it if you signed our petition. You can also attend a public hearing on the proposed curfew at the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville, on Tuesday, July 26 at 1:30pm. For more information or to testify, check out the County Council's website.