Last Thursday, Philadelphia’s City Council was expected to pass an enhanced curfew law. However, no vote was taken due to a “procedural glitch.” The bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, said she has the votes.
If Council passes the bill, it will not be the end of the story; rather, it will open up a new chapter in the fight against the criminalization of black youth.
In the meantime, I want to share my post about the curfew bill published by Race-Talk, a project of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity:
I live in Philadelphia in Center City, ground zero for a series of attacks dubbed “flash mobs” by the media. Since 2009, small groups of black teens and young adults have committed 11 such attacks at random times and on random days of the week.
In a fiery speech before Mount Carmel Baptist Church, Mayor Michael Nutter acknowledged that “less than one percent” of black youth were engaged in the attacks:
I want to apologize to all the good, hardworking, caring people here in this city, and especially our good, young people here in Philadelphia. But I have to tell you this morning that I am forced by the stupid, ignorant, dumb actions of a few -- and we will announce tomorrow actions that we will take that unfortunately will affect many here in our city.Indeed, the 99 percent are presumed guilty. Nutter dusted off a decades-old law and imposed a “temporary curfew” that sweeps minors from Center City and University City after 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The curfew was scheduled to end after Labor Day but under the Mayor’s emergency powers, it has been extended indefinitely. The demonization of black youth stands in stark contrast to how the police handle random acts of violence and property damage committed by white youth in Center City when, for instance, the Phillies won the World Series.
Study after study shows that curfews are ineffective at stemming youth violence. But they are effective in keeping black youth out of sight. The October 2011 newsletter of the South Street Headhouse District, where some of the “flash mobs” took place, includes this call to action:The South Street Mini-Station has enforced the citywide curfew to great success. If you have noticed an improvement in the District due to this curfew please email your positive feedback and request for continuance of the curfew to Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison.
I mentioned this “great success” to Harvard Law professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. when he was in town for a book signing and discussion at the African American Museum. The author of “The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class and Crime in America,” Prof. Ogletree told me: “America always looks better when we are swept from the streets.”
Read more: Black Youth are Presumed Guilty