NEW ORLEANS – An attempt to tackle the violent crime problem in New Orleans by expanding the curfew for teenagers citywide won’t work and may lead to unfairly targeting black teenagers, says an open letter from the ACLU of Louisiana addressed to the New Orleans City Council.
A recent ordinance passed by City Council extended the curfew to 8 p.m. for teens 16 and under in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny on the weekend.
The measure proposed by Councilperson Kristin Gisleson Palmer drew a blistering chorus of disapproval from advocacy groups like the ACLU, Louisiana Justice Institute and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Attorney Tracie Washington from the Louisiana Justice Institute called for a boycott of French Quarter businesses in response to the curfew extension in the Quarter.
"If you don't want us in the French Quarter, fine. We won't go,” she said before the original curfew extension was passed. “I'm telling black males, we will not go to the French Quarter anymore. We're calling for a blackout."
Despite those cries, now the council is considering expanding the curfew extension citywide.
The curfew extension won’t be effective says an open letter by the ACLU of Louisiana and signed by other city civil right leaders and legal advocates.
Evidence already shows that the current curfew law doesn’t work, says the letter. “[A] review in 2000 by noted researchers found no evidence that the New Orleans juvenile curfew has been effective in accomplishing these laudable goals. In fact, the overwhelming body of evidence indicates that curfew laws are ineffective in reducing crime and criminal victimization.”
The letter says that 85 percent of juvenile crime occurs before the curfew, from 2-7 p.m.
An 8 p.m. curfew citywide would give New Orleans one of the strictest curfew laws in the nation, according to the ACLU, and it could have a negative impact 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.”
Businesses where teens mingle and shop could also be hurt by the citywide curfew, says the letter.
Black teens could also face unfair treatment under the new curfew. “Empirical evidence shows that black youth nationwide are cited for curfew violations 71 percent more than white youth,” says the letter.
“In New Orleans, African Americans are arrested for curfew violations at a rate nineteen 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.”
The letter acknowledges the city’s massive crime problem, but doesn’t believe that a curfew extension for teens would be effective in lower crime. Instead, it could draw police resources away where they are needed to fight crime, according to the letter.
“Redirecting resources towards enforcement of a juvenile curfew is a misguided allocation of scarce police resources and time. We cannot solve the murder rate in New Orleans by pursuing teens,” says the letter
The letter was signed by Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana; Dana Kaplan, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana; Katie Schwartzmann, Southern Poverty Law Center; Tracie Washington, Louisiana Justice Institute; Norris Henderson, V.O.T.E.; Wesley Ware, BreakOUT; Jordan Flaherty; Jordan Shannon, Puentes New Orleans; Pam Nath, Mennonite Central Committee, New Orleans; Joseph Heeren-Mueller, New Orleans Catholic Worker Community; Robert Goodman, Safe Streets Strong Communities; Deborah Cotton; Matthew Olson Carol Kolinchak; Diana Gray; Rowan Shafer, public school teacher; Deanna Vandiver, Preliminary fellowship, Unitarian Universalist minister; David Finger, Assistant Clinical Professor, Loyola Law Clinic; Lou Furman; Amy Wolfe; Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Director of Religious Education, First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans.