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Rights groups call time-out on New Orleans teen curfew

Alex Brandon / AP

Revelers party on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans in February 2006.

Juveniles 16 and under would have to be off New Orleans' streets by 8 p.m. every night under legislation under consideration by the City Council.

A vote on a proposal to extend a curfew for juveniles in the French Quarter across to the entire city, initially scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed until Feb. 2.

The proposed ordinance has drawn vociferous opposition from community and black activists and civil rights groups. They contend it is discriminatory, could lead to more racial profiling of black youngsters by police and doesn’t address the root causes of youth violence.

Tracie Washington, a lawyer with the Louisiana Justice Institute, a civil rights legal advocacy organization, said studies have shown that curfews don’t have  the desired effect of reducing teen crime.

“This is stupid. You can pass this curfew, and we’re still going to have this problem,” she told msnbc.com.

Expansion of existing curfew
New Orleans has actually had a citywide curfew since 1994, when murders were happening at the rate of nearly one a day. The 1994 ordinance had set curfew times for those 16 and under to 8 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

On Jan. 5, the City Council voted 6-0 to amend the ordinance to make it 8 p.m. every night in the tourist-heavy French Quarter and the hip Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.

Now, the council is weighing whether to extend the 8 p.m. curfew time citywide.

“The existing citywide juvenile curfew law was passed in 1994 at the request of then-Mayor Marc Morial and Police Superintendent Richard Pennington. At that time, the curfew law was a component of a comprehensive strategy to reduce crime in neighborhoods and protect our city's young people,” City Council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who authored the amended French Quarter ordinance, wrote in an op-ed column Wednesday. “Today, at a similar time of escalating crime and neighborhood violence, it is our duty as elected leaders to stand up, be bold and consider any and all methods that will keep our families and our communities safe.”

Flozell Daniels Jr., president and CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana, a grantmaking philanthropic organization, and Dana Kaplan, executive director for the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, an organization that seeks reforms in the justice system, argued against the proposal in a separate op-ed column.

“We share the council's commitment to reducing the crime that is plaguing our city, and to protecting our youth. However, we must work for substantive solutions, based on what is demonstrated will work,” they wrote.

One of the strictest
An 8 p.m. curfew citywide would give New Orleans one of the strictest curfew laws in the nation. Violators would be taken to a holding center until they are picked up by a parent. The ordinance provides for several exceptions, such as for youths who are with a parent or guardian, going to or from work, or are involved in an emergency.

The ACLU of Louisiana, in an open letter signed by other city civil right leaders and legal advocates, said such a proposal could hurt local businesses and “drastically reduce the amount of free time teenagers have outside of school, limiting their ability to date, go to the movies, or attend nighttime Mardi Gras parades,” wwltv.com reported.

Black teens could also face unfair treatment, the ACLU said, according to wwltv.com.

“In New Orleans, African Americans are arrested for curfew violations at a rate 19 times greater than are white youth. There is, then, a significant risk that some teens will be disproportionately and unfairly affected by this change in the law.”

Washington, of the Louisiana Justice Institute, says the proposed citywide curfew does nothing to address the scarcity of teen resources and recreational outlets, such as movie theaters and bowling alleys.

“Our children are dying. We had two murders last night. Twelve murders in first 12 days of the year.  Children are getting shot sitting inside their homes, sitting on their front porches. I live in a war zone,” she said.

“If you are really concerned about health safety and welfare of juveniles, then do something. “


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