Lloyd Jeffrey Mallan
Feb 24, 2005 00:57 PST
by Neal Zupancic
Tonight I happened to be in a room where a commercial for Fox News was
on the television. I heard a teaser for a news item – a curfew has been
proposed for teenagers in New York City. Appalled at such an idea, I
flew to the Internet to research the curfew. Surely Fox News was simply
trying to scare up some ratings.
Alas, it was true. What's more, there are already curfews, apparently,
in more than a thousand US towns and cities. What rationale lies behind
To a libertarian the fundamental wrongness of the curfew is obvious.
This particular one forbids people under the age of 18 from being in a
public space or private establishment into which the public is invited
(i.e., a store, theater, concert hall, etc.). In other words, if a
17-year-old wakes up at 5 a.m. and goes to buy breakfast at a diner, he
can be ticketed, fined, and forced to do community service, at the
discretion of the police. That situation is absurd. So are many other
situations made possible by this law.
So, besides the impracticalities involved in the law, and the
arbitrariness of using age 18 as the dividing line, what else is wrong?
What's wrong with the ideology behind the law?
Well, the first reason given for the law is that juveniles commit
crimes. Fine – so why not enforce laws against those crimes, instead of
targeting people who haven't committed any crime at all? Because that's
what a curfew does – it punishes people for being potential criminals.
They haven't actually done anything wrong in being out at night, but if
they were allowed to stay out, they might. Looking at the next paragraph
in the bill, we find out that punishing actual crime doesn't work. Why
not? Well, according to the City Council, "the offensive activities of
juveniles are not easily controlled by existing laws and ordinances
because the activities are concealed whenever police officers are
present..." In other words, New York's Finest, the police, can easily be
outwitted by a bunch of children.
This is no surprise. Almost nobody is going to commit crimes openly when
police are around, whether they are over 18 or not. Given that
less-than-startling conclusion, maybe the City Council should increase
police presence in high-crime areas if they want crime to decrease. But
what is the City Council proposing to do instead? They are proposing to
divert the attention of police officers from criminals committing actual
crimes to juveniles who happen to be out past their bedtimes. Every
police officer escorting a 16-year-old home from hanging out in front of
the Quick Stop is a police officer who is not preventing robberies,
murders, or rapes. The City Council knows that police presence deters
criminal activity, so why are they diverting police from being present?
They're doing it for fines and community service. A parent or guardian
can be fined up to $250 if he allows his child to be out of his
supervision past midnight. This lets the government make money from
people who not only did not commit any real crimes, but did not even
commit the supposed crime of being out late at night. In other words,
peaceful, law-abiding citizens who have decided that their children are
mature and responsible can be punished for raising their children well
enough to be out past midnight.
Sure, the curfew is bound to punish deadbeat parents, and it's likely to
just by chance punish juveniles who actually committed crimes, but by
restricting legitimate activity you're throwing the baby out with the
The next reason given in the bill is that juveniles are vulnerable
because of their young age. They are likely to become the victims of
crimes. So are the elderly. So are women. So are women who are
provocatively dressed. Is the government going to set a precedent for
defining and banning behaviors that increase an individual's likelihood
of being victimized by a crime? I thought that the purpose of justice
was to punish criminals, not their victims. No one's proposing a dress
code for women in America (although some nations have these, for the
same reason – that seeing women's skin will lead men to commit crimes)
nor is anyone proposing a curfew for the elderly. The government is not
our mommy. This reasoning rests on the fundamental idea that people
cannot do what is best for themselves – a very peculiar concept indeed
in a democracy, because if we can't be trusted to keep our children safe
from nighttime prowlers, how can we be trusted to run the most powerful
government in the world? Responsibility and accountability come from the
people, not from the government.
The bill then points out that juveniles are likely to become exposed to
narcotics trafficking late at night. This begs a few questions about the
drug war itself. The subject is too extensive for me to cover here, but
let me point out two great articles about it: The Drug Crisis and The
Cocaine Price Support Program. If there was no drug war, there wouldn't
be drug traffickers targeting youngsters late at night – just like there
are no blue jeans salesmen now roaming the near-deserted city streets
peddling their wares to our nation's vulnerable youth. People instead
buy these things in the light of day, if they happen to want them.
The last reason for the curfew given by the bill is that it "assists
parents and guardians in carrying out their parental responsibility to
exercise supervision of youths entrusted to their care." That wording
seems a bit peculiar. "Assists" is a strange word choice for making the
failure to do something punishable by law. If I threaten to steal $250
from you if you don't do your laundry, am I actually assisting you in
doing your laundry? Of course not. So in what way does extorting money
from the parents of innocent teens constitute "assisting" those parents?
When I was young the only time my parents left me unsupervised was when
they both had to be at work. It seems to me that less government and
fewer ridiculous fines would assist parents in supervising their
children a lot more than half-baked regulatory schemes like this one do.
I don't doubt that there is a problem today with children left
unsupervised getting into trouble. What I doubt is that the government
can offer a solution to the problem by channeling yet more money and
power from the individual into the endless bureaucracy that consumes 40%
of our income while chipping away at our rights and freedoms. The more
of a role government takes in raising America's children the less of a
role the parents will take, and the less of a role the parents take the
more the government will need to step in to fix the problems caused by
lack of parental supervision. Will we break the cycle or will we come to
live in a police state?
Or are we already living in a police state?
February 24, 2005
Neal Zupancic [send him mail] is a bartender in New York City. He
moderates the Knowledge Is Liberty weblog.
Copyright 2005 LewRockwell.com
Freedom in our time!