Baltimore joins cities toughening curfews, citing safety

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BALTIMORE -- To beat the summer heat, Isaiah Jackson waits until the sun goes down to play basketball in an alley near his home.

He and his friends often play late into the night on a makeshift court where a streetlight illuminates the hoop. Now, the 15-year-old worries those games could bring unwanted attention from the police.

Under a new curfew law signed by the mayor last week, youths ages 14 to 16 must be off the streets by 10 p.m. on school nights and 11 p.m. on weekends and in the summer. Those under 14 must be in by 9 every night.

"When I go outside, I really don't do anything but play basketball and football," Isaiah said at his high school on a recent afternoon. "It's stupid for me to get in trouble for tossing a football at 10 o'clock at night."

Like many U.S. cities, Baltimore has had a curfew for many years, but had enforced it only sporadically. This summer, the city will put in place one of the strictest curfews in the country, an attempt, supporters say, to get youths off the streets at night both for their safety and to reduce crime. Critics, however, say the curfew opens the door to selective enforcement that could resemble the stop-and-frisk policies accused of violating the rights of minorities in New York.

Other cities, including Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Oakland, Calif., have recently considered stricter curfews that have also been met with public criticism. Kansas City, Mo., and Philadelphia enacted curfews in recent years in response to high-profile violence.

Kansas City adopted a stricter curfew in 2011 after gunfire erupted in a popular plaza, wounding three youths, while the mayor was nearby. That same year, Philadelphia passed a curfew because roving groups of youths, known as flash mobs, were assaulting people at random downtown. Philadelphia let its curfew expire at the end of last year, the city's director of public safety, Michael Resnick, said.

"The problem that we experienced does not exist any longer, so I think it was a way to get a quick handle of it and give law enforcement an additional tool," he said.

Violence against teenagers is one of the reasons spurring the tougher curfew in Baltimore, where at least nine youths 18 and under have been killed this year, an increase from four during the same period last year, according to a database of homicides compiled by The Baltimore Sun. The victims include a 15-year-old who was shot in the head on Memorial Day around 1:45 a.m. while riding in a car.

On Monday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signed the curfew bill, which will go into effect 60 days later. Having young people out by themselves late at night, the mayor said, "is out of line with our efforts to make sure our kids are in school ready to learn, and it is a problem because when some young kids are out unsupervised, they are either causing harm or in harm's way."

Officers can stop juveniles who are out late and take them to a youth center, where parents are called to pick them up. Parents could face fines of up to $500, although most fines will be much lower than that, and parents can avoid paying them if they agree to counseling, city officials said. There will continue to be exceptions for teenagers who are with their parents or on the way home from work or a school activity.

The current curfew is 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends for everyone under 17.



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