Wednesday, October 06, 2004

It's 12 am. Do you know where your parents are?

A new law has been proposed in NYC to institute a curfew and enforce it on kids and their parents. The law, if passed, would require that all kids under the age of eighteen (18) be home or with a parent or guardian, between the hours of Midnight and 6 am. One of the bill’s sponsors NYC Councilman Dennis Gallagher of Queens County said “There is no valid reason why children should be hanging out on the streets of New York in the middle of the night” he continued, “When a child is out in the middle of the night only bad things can occur.”

The bill would cause a juvenile found out after dark to be escorted home by the police, or held at the local police precinct until collected by a parent. A first offense would cost the kid Twenty Five (25) hours of community service and Fifty (50) hours if caught again. Parents who let their kids out are fined Seventy Five ($75.00) dollars for the first offense and Two Hundred Fifty($250.00) for every time after that. Kids coming home from work, school, or religious business are exempt. A business that lets a kid “hang out” on its’ property is also liable under the law.

Now, That Lawyer Dude is of two minds on this issue. First, parents should be concerned when their youngsters are out after 11pm much less 12 am. A growing person requires Eight (8) or more hours of sleep and it is a health benefit for him to be home and hopefully sleeping between the hours of Midnight and 6 am. However…

That does not mean That Lawyer Dude approves of a blanket law that legislates how parents bring up their kids. For example, if a parent chooses to home school their child and that is done at night, then that may suggest the child involved may need to be out late. Is there a substantive difference (note I did not say a legal one) between a Seventeen year old the night before her Eighteenth birthday and the night after?? If a sixteen year old is out at 2 am with a nineteen year old, is the nineteen year old the guardian for the purpose of the statute?

The truth is, that while That Lawyer Dude would suggest to parents that their young children and pre-high schoolers be home before 9pm and that on any school night all students under 16 be in no later than 10pm, I am not so pompous as to believe there are not other schools of thought on this curfew matter. I am also not willing to endorse a law that puts a person at risk of arrest (or detainment) or at loss of their finances for exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of movement.

There is a qualitative difference between this type of law and the type that the criminal law usually addresses. Unlike the “everyone included you may not take something not yours”kind of law, this type of law punishes everyone in a certain class. It is unfair to those that do not act out and have earned their right to move about whenever they want. This smacks of unfairness. It is also what bothers me about most things that should really be handled at home by loving parents. There are children who can be trusted and those who have shown that they cannot. Deciding this distinction should not be the job of the NY City Council. It is the job of the parent. True, I have no problem with a curfew for someone previously adjudicated a youthful offender or juvenile delinquent. These children have already caused public concern and cost taxpayers money. But let a court and a District Attorney address those issues at a bail hearing where evidence can be provided.

I have a problem with a child, innocently walking home at 2 am after being at a cast party of the school play (held at a friends home) being stopped, frisked (after all the police officer is entitled to know his young charge is not going to harm him), and detained, maybe for hours, at a police station all because he stayed out too late on a date. What of the child who wants to catch the waves at dawn? Is she to be arrested because the best time to surf or fish or walk and run on a boardwalk is before 6am? What is it about these honor students and hard working children strikes dread in the heart of the Councilmatic adult??

There are dangers exposed in all things. You go on a school trip, you chance an accident or now even terrorist action. A visit to a synagogue or a church now a days is just as problematic. Homes can be robbed by 18 and 19 year olds as easily as by a 15 or 16 year old. Does the age make the difference? And if we really want to make the streets safe for New Yorkers shouldn’t we keep all kids off the streets? After all we make people wait till their 21st birthdays before we let them drink alcoholic beverages, why not make them wait until then to go out. We make people wait until they are thirty five (35) before they can be President of the United States of America. As it has been shown that criminal behavior wanes after one becomes 35 maybe all people under 35 should be kept indoors after midnight! ( a that Lawyer Dude can rant!!)

Remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “A nation that is willing to sacrifice Freedom for Security… Deserves not the former nor receive the latter.” Smart guy that old Ben.

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