Philadelphia City Council passes new youth curfew law

Posted: October 28, 2011

A nearly unanimous City Council passed a new youth curfew Thursday after a long and raucous hearing dominated by often-heated testimony against the measure.

The 15-1 vote sent a chamber full of opponents into chants of, "Shame! Shame!"

As they filed out, they chanted, "We need schools, not the curfew."

The bill's sponsor, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, praised those who spoke out, but said many of their concerns had been addressed in a bill the city needed.

"Regretfully, we have too many parents who don't step up and do their job," she said. "When parents who have so many other issues on their plate are not able to be where they should be . . . government has to step in."

Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell was the lone dissenting vote. Councilwoman Joan Krajewski was absent.

Brown introduced the bill on behalf of Mayor Nutter, who used an aggressive curfew this summer to tamp down so-called flash mobs - roving groups of youths who were assaulting random strangers in Center City.

Nutter had applied the expanded curfew only to Center City and University City, where a heavy police presence was assigned, raising cries of selective enforcement, classism, and racism.

The new curfew would apply citywide.

Philadelphia has had a curfew on the books since 1955, but Nutter said he wanted to update the law after the summer's unrest. The new curfew applies only to unaccompanied minors, which several opponents seemed not to realize.

In response to earlier criticism that curfews do not prevent crime, Council added a two-year sunset provision, at which point the administration would be asked to prove the curfew's effectiveness.

The new curfew would be structured around the academic year. When school is in session, unaccompanied children 13 and younger would have to be off the streets by 8 p.m.; 14- and 15-year-olds by 9 p.m.; and 16- and 17-year-olds by 10 p.m.

In the summer, each age group would get an extra hour.

Those who spoke out against the curfew represented a broad constituency that included graduate students, activists, a former public schoolteacher, and several frequent government critics, including MOVE member Pam Africa and Wali Rahman, an independent candidate for mayor who identified himself as part of the Black is Back Coalition.

Generally, they argued against empowering police to stop and question young people suspected of being minors in violation of the curfew. The state's ACLU chapter previously warned Council the measure was unconstitutional - and it practically promised to sue.

The opponents also railed against using resources to enforce a curfew when, in their view, schools and social services go underfunded.

"Is that how we solve our problems in the city? By intimidating children?" asked Khadijah White, who identified herself as a doctoral student.

She noted that the city already had laws against vandalism and assault - the chief crimes committed by the flash mobs.

"If the city is having trouble enforcing these laws, is it really wise to add another to the list?" she asked.

After more than 20 people testified against the bill, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison defended the curfew.

"The idea that this is an effort just to criminalize youth is the last thing we have" in mind, he said.

The Nutter administration has been talking since the summer about a "holistic approach" to the city's restless youths, including keeping recreation centers open later.

Brown said Council expected to suggest new measures, possibly even reopening the curfew centers that Nutter closed.

"That means, what other options are we giving to young people when we see them on the street?" she said. "The curfew law should not be the only remedy for young people who are out of control."


Contact staff writer Troy Graham

at 215-854-2730, tgraham@phillynews.com,

or @troyjgraham on Twitter.

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