Teenagers

The Social Worker with a Gun

"Connecting young people and their families with the services they need"—using the police?

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On Monday, Baltimore's city council gave its preliminary approval to an intrusive new curfew law. Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun reports:

This actually comes from Philadelphia, not Baltimore, but I cropped the part of the flier that would show that. But now I've gone and told you anyway, haven't I? Oh, dear.

The legislation, approved 11-2, calls for youngsters under 14 to be indoors year-round by 9 p.m. Youths ages 14 through 16 could stay out until 10 on school nights and 11 on other nights.

Currently, all children and teens younger than 17 can stay out until 11 on weeknights and until midnight on weekends. Parents can be fined up to $300 if their children are caught outside after curfew.

The legislation increases penalties to $500, though they could be waived if parents and children attend counseling sessions provided by the city.

The measure does include exemptions for kids traveling to or from certain approved activities, such as a school event or a job. Of course, the police won't necessarily know that's why you're out of the house, so you can be coming home from work or a football game and still be forced to show your ID and explain to an officer why you're using a public walkway.

The Sun quotes the bill's sponsor, Councilman Brandon Scott, claiming the law is for the children's own good. "This bill is not about arresting kids," he reportedly said. "This bill is not about dropping crime. It's about connecting young people and their families with the services they need." That's quite a euphemism, isn't it? "Connecting young people and their families with the services they need" has a much friendlier ring than "first a cop hassles you, then you have to see a 'counselor' if you won't pay a steep fine."

It's true that a kid out late might be in need of help—his family could be homeless, for example. But "help" imposed at the end of a gun ceases to be assistance and starts to be something else.

The bill will probably pass its final vote next month. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has promised that if it comes to her desk, she'll sign it.

Bonus statistics: When Scott proposed the law last year, the Sun noted that "Gun violence in Baltimore involving juveniles has been on a steep decline in recent years, though there has been an uptick in 2013….Police arrest data show that juvenile arrests for aggravated assault, drug abuse violations and larceny—the three largest categories—are all down this year compared with the same time last year, though robberies are up 65 percent and stolen car arrests are up 52 percent." Meanwhile, "Of the five youths killed this year in city street violence, only one would have been considered in violation of curfew at the time her killing occurred."