As Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake set out on foot Saturday to pitch an upcoming community forum on the city's new youth curfew law, the controversial measure drew — as it has in the past — a mixed response from residents.
Charlie Heyman, an Ednor Gardens-Lakeside resident and father of seven, said children need more "structure" and responsibility in their lives.
"I would love to have this enforced," Heyman, 49, said after shaking hands with the mayor. "I was raised on a curfew, and I see the benefits of a curfew. More rules and more structure for our youth is always a good thing."
Kattina Jones, who was accompanied by her 10-year-old son, Dimitrius, said she thought it would be difficult to enforce the law, which will take effect in mid-August.
"All the kids gotta do is go somewhere, wait a little while, then come back out," said Jones, 49. Of her son, she said, "It won't really affect him because if I don't go out, he doesn't go out."
On Saturday morning, Rawlings-Blake knocked on doors in Ednor Gardens-Lakeside to inform residents of the forum and answer questions, accompanied by Councilman Brandon M. Scott, Maj. Richard Worley, commander of the Northeast police district, and several community liaisons. They passed out literature that sought to dispel some "myths" about the measure, including the notion that the curfew centers where children will be taken are like youth jails.
Rawlings-Blake has said the curfew will keep the children and teens safe and help identify families in need of intervention. It has sparked controversy among some who believe it will entrap children in the criminal justice system or be an experience similar to an arrest. Other residents have embraced the new measure, believing it will help get unruly youths off the street at a reasonable hour and help connect them with social services.
Under the new curfew, approved by the City Council in June, children under 14 must be off the street as early as 9 p.m. Children 14 to 16 will be able to stay out until 10 on school nights and 11 p.m. on weekends and over the summer. Under existing law in place for two decades but not always enforced, all children and teens younger than 17 could stay out until 11 on weeknights and until midnight on weekends.
Baltimore's expanded curfew law — now one of the strictest in the country — made national news as several other large cities are considering tougher curfew laws. Other local jurisdictions, including Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, don't have youth curfews.
If youths are accompanied by a parent, traveling home from work or going to a religious event or a recreational activity, they will be exempt from the curfew.
Children violating the curfew will be brought to a center by police, though not handcuffed, and interviewed. Officials will contact the child's parents and can involve Child Protective Services if they deem the home is unsafe.
The parents or guardians face a fine of $500, up from $300. But the fine could be waived if the family participates in counseling sessions provided by the city.
The community forum will be held on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Murphy Fine Arts Center Recital Hall at Morgan State University. The second forum will be Tuesday, July 29, at 7 p.m. at the University of Baltimore Law Center.