Beginning last week, New Orleans residents 16 and under are no longer able to be out without adult supervision after 9 PM
on weekdays and 11 PM
on weekends, and this will continue on throughout the summer months, ending in August. The French Quarter will even go a step further by starting the curfew at 8 PM
, protecting the most tourist inhabited area of the city from potential targeting–and thus protecting the city’s biggest cash cow. City officials claim this has been enacted to curb a recent spike in youth crime, however, many worry this may further marginalize underserved populations, as well as combat the problem from entirely the wrong angle.
As a parent, of course I am concerned about the rise in crime, and as New Orleanians, I think we all are. The impulse to make an impact on such a ubiquitous and scary trend is valid and appreciated. However, several problems come to mind when thinking about the development and execution of this policy, and while doing something is great, doing something effective is better.
There is no question that this measure will disproportionately impact poor communities of color. An already overworked, underfunded police department will have the onus of patrolling those who have not committed a crime on top of using their limited resources to pursue actual perpetrators. This will make those guilty of nothing painted as criminals at a very young age, and thus further intensify tensions between citizens and police.
Additionally, those with multiple citations’ parents will be charged. Granted, one might say that someone who hasn’t adjusted to the policy after multiple warnings is deserving of punishment, and that might be true. However, we are not looking at the root cause of why this person in continuing to offend, what resources they might be without, how city services could potentially help them. Many children have responsibilities beyond the average child, which may force them to violate the curfew due to extenuating circumstances, and we are not taking into account the broad range of experience that may lead to this misstep. We are increasing the prosecution and litigation of an already over-prosecuted and over-litigated population.
Perhaps most importantly, there is no evidence that curfew measures actually do anything to impact the crime rate. In fact, the evidence suggests that they don’t really do anything at all. Most recently, a review of the results of similar measures enacted in 12 different cities reported no significant change in juvenile crime after the curfews in these cities were implemented. Why? Because, as the study reported, most juvenile crime happens before and after school, not during late night hours.
It would be nice to see New Orleans attacking a problem like this from a more nuanced angle. An increase in after school programs, a strengthening of the quality of education in the city, an outreach educating parents on social services available to them, a renewed focus on youth centered non-profits: all of these things could take city funding and resources and put them towards a more comprehensive strategy to fight juvenile crime. Of course, that is harder and more complex, and doesn’t necessarily come with the political capital of a sweeping measure like a curfew. But our city, our children, and our safety as citizens depends on policies known for their effectiveness. We deserve more than a Band-Aid.