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Stricter curfew should be rejected [Letter]

The Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association, which represents more than 1,000 homes, business and churches and is over 50 years old, recently unanimously opposed the Baltimore City Council's curfew bill ("Council approves tough new curfew for city youth," May 12).

It is the sincere belief of our residents that passage of this bill will bring about both a discriminatory and arbitrary implementation. While we readily agree that we, as parents, first and foremost, and fellow residents, must significantly improve upon the actions and conduct of our children, the city has not fully and successfully implemented the current curfew. At best, this reactive proposal — rather than a proactive solution-oriented initiative — will cause a significant number of our children to be put on house-arrest. Expanding the city's daytime and nighttime curfews will assuredly cause more problems than it will solve.

The measure passed by the council is far more intense than other state and federal curfew laws that courts have actually thrown out because they had the potential to violate, rather than protect, young people's rights and those of their parents. The city's current curfew law has not been implemented. Parents must attend counseling from people who do not live in our city, do not respect our varied cultures and neither have a history nor relationship with our residents and communities. Where is the counseling manual and who will lead this initiative — another mayoral appointee from outside of our city or state?

Where is the documentation to support this extreme and far-reaching bill? We have neither received nor seen such documentation. This is similar to the illegal arrests that one recent former mayor instituted and we should not be forced again to sue the city for another scheme that harms our residents. There are already racial disparities in arrests by police and this is certain to cause an exacerbation. We question the legality and prudence.

How well do we remember the Mungo case from 2007 during which police officers decided to not only arrest but also handcuff a 7-year-old? There is no evidence to substantiate that curfew laws protect young people and reduce crime. Contrary to the councilman's statement, we do arrest children, put them in handcuffs and maybe not take them to Central Booking, but in the Mungo case took him to the police district.

Who's going to pay for the identification card that will be required and who will issue such? Is the $200 increase in fine another money hungry scheme? We're not going back to slavery days when citizens had to have papers to move about especially in certain areas like downtown Baltimore.

Though we are working on improvements between the police and community, the reality is that today in 2014 the relationship between the police and our community is not good. Police interaction with our community, not to mention our youth, leaves a great deal to be desired. What are the police to do, specifically, when catching a youth violating curfew? We haven't seen the language spelled out in this regard.

Sometimes, elected officials create laws which cause unintended, unnecessary and excessive violations of rights. Definitely, this is about to happen here. Yes, we have to do something and assuredly more than we have. We know of no data that substantiates that locking children inside keeps them from harm, victimization and/or delinquency.

If the bill is intended, as alleged, to connect young people and their families with the services they need, why don't we do this on the front end and not the discriminatory and punitive back end? A way to get juveniles off the street at night is to provide more services on the front end. The bill also lacks appropriate guidelines, policies and procedures to guide its implementation. Why not properly and effectively fund and operate all of our recreation centers, install baseball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, etc.?

What is the reason why the surrounding counties don't have stringent curfew laws and what have been their successes for not having such? A large number of our police officers and women do not live in the city, have limited and strained relationships with our children, seemingly either don't understand, respect and/or appreciate the different cultures, especially the majority of the city. What training have they have? We assuredly don't see anything in this bill regarding training.

Better to increase youth services, open all recreation centers, and bring in counselors who respect our community. The Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association has informed our councilman, Nick Mosby, that we opposed this bill.

Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr., Baltimore

The writer is president of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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