Teen Curfews and Racial Undertones

William Warby / Flickr

A proposed curfew in Montgomery County would prevent teens under 18 from being out past midnight on weekends and 11 p.m. on weekdays.

On Wednesday’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, guests spoke about the merits of instituting a teen curfew in Montgomery County. And parts of the discussion centered around young people in nearby D.C. and Prince George’s County, the majority of whom are black.

Montgomery County’s curfew is intended to curtail crime, particularly gang violence. But guest Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of DC Lawyers for Youth, said after the broadcast that much of the debate is loaded with “coded language.” Some proponents want to keep D.C. and Prince George’s County youth from coming to Montgomery County because they believe they cause trouble.

“We want to keep our kids safe from those kids” is an underlying theme, says Okonkwo, an opponent of the curfew.

D.C.’s curfew, on the books since 1995, prohibits teens under 17 from being out past 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends. There have been other efforts to crack down on teens congregating in neighborhoods like Chinatown — including blasting classical music in favorite hang-out spots and installing other noise repellents.

Business owners say rowdy teens hurt them by driving customers away, particularly when violence erupts. But as Washington Post‘s Courtland Milloy writes, many young black people feel they “are being treated like suspects because of a misbehaving few:”

“My friends and I got locked up two months ago for walking across the sidewalk,” Ke’Shayla Thorne, 17, a student at Spingarn High School in Northeast, told me. “The police said, ‘Come here, you’re under arrest.’ But other people walk like that all the time and they expect black kids to move off the sidewalk and let them pass. Nobody locks them up.”

You can listen to the entire Kojo Nnamdi segment here.

  • Monipo1

    Like it or not it IS the minority teens that are starting alot of stuff.   Close your eyes..What teens do you see being roudy on the bus? The Metro? Robbing people on Ustreets after the night clubs let out?? Shooting people at the Carnival???? Who did you see?

  • SoFoCo

    The issue with the proposed curfew is Silver Spring’s downtown. We live in Silver Spring, which is probably the  most diverse community in Montgomery County. The residents of Silver Spring who support the curfew are not targeting racial, ethnic or class minorities. But we do want Silver Spring to be a safe place for all the residents of our community, residents that would include all those racial, ethnic and class minorities that critics wrongly claim curfew proponents are targeting.

    We had a similar problem a few years ago with the Boys and Girls Club in Silver Spring. The club was organizing hip-hop parties. Nothing wrong with that. But the hip-hop posters — displaying machine guns, nude women and gang signs — were not being distributed to the youth of Silver Spring. They were being distributed in Prince George’s County and in Washington, D.C., neighborhoods. What we experienced as a neighborhood then was an onslaught of out-of-towners who treated our homes, yards and community with disrespect. Continual police calls for stolen and damaged cars, fights and vandalism became the norm. It turned out the Boys and Girls Club had more people in their building than fire codes permitted. And they were running the hip-hop parties past the time that public transportation stopped serving the neighborhood, with noise and crowds staying late in what is really a bedroom community. When we asked for changes, we were accused of racism; sadly, the critics couldn’t see that those asking for changes were black, Latino, Asian and white, that we were middle class and poor, that all we were asking for was that the local Boys and Girls Club serve local families, and show respect for its neighbors. Ultimately, with pressure from the Montgomery County Council, and with the cooperation of police and fire officials, the hip-hop parties ended.

    Just like then, this is not an issue of race or class discrimination. Silver Spring is a mixed community of enormous diversity. But just because our homes have faces that are of all creeds and colors doesn’t mean we cannot stand together to demand safety and peace in our community. If nothing else, it shows precisely how a diverse community can stand together and demand the same respect and quality of life as our homogenous, wealthier counterparts in western Montgomery County.

  • SSmomma

    As a parent, I am pretty shocked that folks have an issue with this curfew.  Why in the world should kids, regardless of skin color or class, be out past 11pm on week days and midnight on weekends?  It is not like the curfew is 9pm. 

    Kids who are working or have a reason or a place to be, like a late showing of a movie, are an exception.  I would bet that those people protesting this have not been in trouble nor would they cause trouble.  They are civic minded enough to chime in.  Parents and others who are throwing race into the mix are perhaps well intended, but sadly out of touch with the main issue here.  Should I allow my kids to play in your front yard past 11pm on a week night? What would you say about my parenting?   People love a good protest, they love some good attention, especially those who do not live in the county nor do they venture up to the area most in need of this curfew, do not have kids, or think they are speaking on behalf of an entire demographic. 

    The issue is really about unsupervised minors who are getting into trouble.  They are not all one color, but they do share something in common with each other, parents that are not doing their job.

    For those so upset that Montgomery County has this proposed curfew, do you have an issue with DC’s?  PG County?  

    Maybe those in staunch opposition should anser the following questions:

    If you are a minor, and excluding exceptions, such as a plan to see a late movie, a concert or a job, do you have a curfew later than the proposed times?

    If you are an adult, do you frequent the areas that have had issues, downtown SS, or Bethesda, after 9pm regularly? If not, do you understand the issues police have begun to deal with?

    If you are an adult, do you have a child who would have this imposed curfew? Would you let your child under 17 stay out past midnight without supervision or a planned activity?

  • Anonymous

    Honestly yes.

  • Aolstyling32

    Just because that’s who you see getting in trouble for it, that doesn’t mean those are the only kids that do it.  I teach at a predominately white school in Potomac and those kids get busted for drug/alcohol infused parties all the time.  Fight on the streets, are loud and obnoxious in local stores,  and are pretty much what any person would consider a nuisance.  Unfortunately, you don’t see these kids on the side of the street in handcuffs.  And as a result, people think that these kids would never do anything like that. 

    Just because you expect it of minority kids, does not mean they are the only ones that do it.  Ever thought the reason you see them caught so much is because the police are searching for them to be the ones doing it?  Step into Potomac or Bethesda on a weekend night.  Go to the tunnel under downtown Bethesda. Most teens do stupid things.  I think it’s only fair that all be profiled.  Not just minority teens. 

    I know it’s easier to believe that all minorities do bad things, but be the person who knows better.  Racial profiling exists within every minority community.  The reason it continues is because people like you feed into it.  Stop expecting bad things from minorities, and you’ll stop finding them.