Equally important are the legal freedom and natural rights of parents to decide how they want to raise their children. With the curfews, parents are no longer able to decide when and where their children are able to go outside. This is ironic, given the current renaissance of conservatism in our country. The same folk who routinely preach gospels of parental responsibility and small government are suddenly in favor of having the state illegally usurp the power of parents to do their jobs.
Some people push back against constitutional arguments by claiming that curfews serve a compelling state interest: reducing crime. The problem with such an argument, however, is that there is no persuasive evidence that curfews are an effective means of law enforcement. According to available data, most juvenile crime occurs between 3 and 7 p.m. As such, an evening curfew does nothing to stem the tide of crime. In fact, according to some studies, the curfews actually increase crime during the daytime hours.
By imposing curfews on our youth, we also continue the trend of criminalizing our children. Over the past decade we have seen the rise in anti-youth policies like civil injunctions against gangs, anti-baggy-pants legislation and zero tolerance in schools. In the case of curfews, we literally make it illegal to be "young" and "outside." Through these practices, we alienate our children and produce the very criminal mentalities and behaviors that we hope to destroy.
Rather than continuing to contain and blame our youth, we must commit ourselves to long-term, root-based solutions. This means expanding Mayor Nutter's admirable commitment to keeping community centers open later, but also creating quality educational and employment opportunities for the city's youth. In terms of direct service, we must revive programs like the Adolescent Violence Reduction Partnership (AVRP), which partnered at-risk youth with adult mentors to prevent them from becoming perpetrators or victims of violence.
Like many citizens, I empathize with Mayor Nutter on this issue. At a moment when crime is rising and many citizens are scared, tough and sometimes unpopular decisions must be made. In this case, curfew laws seem like a common-sense solution to an urgent problem.
The problem is that curfews are nothing more than a Band-Aid, a simple answer to a complex question. Until we commit ourselves to doing the hard work of being personally and socially responsible parents, citizens and leaders, we will continue to suffer the consequences. And no curfew will be able to save us.
Daily News editor-at-large Marc Lamont Hill is an associate professor of education at Columbia University and host of "Our World With Black Enterprise," which airs at 6 a.m. Sundays on TV-One. Contact him at MLH@marclamonthill.com.