Who should be disciplining our children? When I was 16, I sued the state of Indiana over its decade-old curfew law. Despite the state’s numerous appeals, the law was ruled unconstitutional by federal District Judge John Tinder. One fall night after attending a Broad Ripple High School soccer game, three friends and I decided to celebrate our team’s victory at a local restaurant. When we left at 11:03 p.m., several police officers were waiting for us in the parking lot. We were out three minutes past curfew with our parents’ permission, but despite our explanations the police slapped on the handcuffs.
“Ya’ll know you ain’t got rights,” the officer said. “Minors ain’t got no rights.”
This officer’s short-winded reasoning for handcuffing us — because “minors ain’t go no rights” — identifies the fundamental problem that curfew laws are supposed to solve, but instead worsen: Curfew laws do not protect minors — they make them victims of unjustified interrogations and punishments.
After July 24’s murder of 15-year-old Brandon Dunson on the Westside, the city has begun to enforce curfew legislation. The belief that curfew laws would protect children like Brandon is flawed, and, based on my experience, I’m not convinced the police who enforce curfews are interested in the safety of minors as the top priority.
As we sat handcuffed on the curb, waiting for a paddy wagon, we begged the police to cut us a break. One of my friends, still wearing his soccer uniform, complained that his handcuffs were too tight, but the officers refused to loosen them. An hour later, when the paddy wagon finally arrived, his wrists were bleeding.
We traveled around the city sitting on steel benches as the police performed their “curfew sweep,” picking up more strays. Ironically, we ended up back at my high school — where we watched the soccer game earlier — and entered the cafeteria. It had been converted to a detention center where kids were lined along the walls waiting to blow into a breathalyzer and then submit to a urinalysis test.
After I turned over my urine, I was set up with a counselor who asked me irrelevant personal questions, such as “Do you eat dinner as a family?” and “Do you believe in God?” When I refused to answer these questions, I was told my parents wouldn’t be called until I did.
The phone rang in my house at 5 a.m., waking my mother.
“Mrs. Hodgkins, this is the Indianapolis Police Department,” the voice said. “We have your son.”
“Oh my God, what happened?” she asked, alarmed. “He has been detained for violating curfew.”
At about 6 a.m., my mother finished filling out the paperwork and I was back in her custody. She was furious, but it had nothing to do with my decision to have a late-night meal.
Judge Tinder ruled that curfew laws impinge on parents’ rights to raise their children as their own — the way they see fit. When I behaved and earned good grades, my parents would often reward me by letting me stay out past curfew, whether it was to attend a movie or simply be with friends. Even if one considers this to be irresponsible parenting, it’s each parent’s right to decide how they raise their own children — NOT the state’s.
Additionally, Tinder found that curfew laws don’t take vaguer issues such as First Amendment rights into consideration. Should youths be allowed to attend vigils after curfew? What about a political rally in the last hours before an execution?
There are countless legitimate reasons for a minor to be outside after any designated curfew, and coming out of a restaurant after a school-sanctioned sporting event is one of them — especially with parental permission.
But creating a sweeping law that enforces a curfew merely puts too much power into the hands of law enforcement. Violating my constitutional rights by arresting me for curfew opened the gates for other constitutional violations, all because it was in law enforcement’s power to bring me in and treat me as a criminal. And there’s a realistic possibility that this treatment would have been worse if I wasn’t a clean-cut white kid with a clean record.
In light of the recent tragedy on the Westside, there has been a resurgence of curfew law enforcement aiming to protect children from this type of violence.
Dunson was the fifth teen-ager this summer to be gunned down, and yet our response is to point our fingers at a curfew law. What about gun control? If the objective is to protect our children from violence then it seems logical to eliminate the very tools that execute and promote this violence.
Curfew laws have little to no effect on deterring mischievous children from crime or protecting them from violence. But there is a direct relationship between gun control and murder rates. Enforcing a curfew law promotes a problematic, diversionary tactic that regulates children and does nothing to focus on issues like violence, or real solutions like restricting gun sales.