We chat with D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier about the city's strategy to combat the spike in violent crime taking place in the nation's capital.
Montgomery County is considering imposing a year-round curfew on kids under 18. The measure is intended to address crime and gang-related violence, but critics say it is a misguided approach that won’t work. We look at the Montgomery County proposal, and how curfews already in place in the District and Prince George’s county are working.
- Tony Hausner Founder and chair, Safe Silver Spring
- Tailor Coble Senior, School Without Walls; Participant, WAMU's summer Youth Voices program
- Abigail Burman Student, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts; Silver Spring resident
- Daniel Okonkwo Executive Director, DC Lawyers for Youth
- Marc Elrich Member, Montgomery County Council (D- At Large)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Montgomery County has recently entered the debate over teens in public places with a proposal for a youth curfew for those under 18.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMontgomery County says that it's got a problem with youth violence and with gangs, and that one of the issues is that the District and Prince George's already have curfews in place for those under 17, which drives kids to Silver Spring and other spots in Montgomery County when time in their home neighborhoods is up. On the other hand, teens say they're being tarnished with the misdeeds of a few.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn the District, black teens who congregate around these steps of the National Portrait Gallery in Chinatown say they're regularly harassed by police, even when they're not breaking any rule. Joining us to discuss all of this is Daniel Okonkwo. He is the executive director of DC Lawyers for Youth. He's also a member of WAMU's community council, the station's community advisory board. Daniel Okonkwo, thank you for joining us.
MR. DANIEL OKONKWOThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Marc Elrich. He is a member of the Montgomery County Council. He's a member of the council's public safety committee. Marc Elrich, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
MR. MARC ELRICHYeah.
NNAMDIAbigail Burman is with us. She will be a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., which is a high school. She just finished her junior year at Richard Montgomery High School, and she is a Silver Spring resident. Abigail Burman, thank you for joining us.
MS. ABIGAIL BURMANThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Tony Hausner is the founder and chair of Safe Silver Spring. It's a local community group. Tony, thank you for joining us also.
MR. TONY HAUSNERYeah, thank you for having me as well.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us, 800-433-8850. Are you in favor of youth curfews? Why, or why not? 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. Marc Elrich, let me start with you. What's the youth curfew proposal in Montgomery County?
ELRICHWell, the proposal itself will limit youth on the -- basically, out in public up till 11 o'clock of weekdays and midnight on weekends.
NNAMDIWhat happens if a youth happened or is found out and about after the curfew?
ELRICHWell, the general effort would be to say time to go home, and assuming someone preferably proceeds to, you know, find their way home, nothing happens. I think this is -- it's actually a work in progress. I mean, you know, the police chief has said there are a lot things that need to be worked out and a lot of questions. And I think council members have a lot of questions. So I would say there's no certainty at this point as to how the thing will actually be implemented.
NNAMDIHow it will unfold. Tony, Montgomery County says it has an issue because, well, the District and Prince George's County already have curfews, and kids are just going over to Montgomery County. Is that as far as you understand, correct?
HAUSNERCertainly, one of the things that everybody is reacting to is the fact that there's an awful lot of gang violence going on. Not a lot of gang violence, but there is some gang violence. There was a major gang fight in Silver Spring on July 1, July 2. And a lot of those people came from Prince George's, the District, other parts of the region. So, clearly, we need to take a regional approach to dealing with the gang issues, and gang issues is one of the things driving this legislative proposal.
NNAMDIDaniel Okonkwo, the District and Prince George's have had curfews in place for several years, and the number of cities and counties around the country have instituted curfews over the past two decades. Exactly what is the law in the District? And what happens to a young person who violates it?
OKONKWOWell, I believe that the law in the District states that -- well, first, I think that the age is apply differently in the District than they do under the proposed legislation -- the District, it's 17 and under 17 -- but, essentially, have the law here that a curfew begins at 11 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and goes up to midnight on Saturdays -- Fridays and Saturdays. And so it appears that the Montgomery County mirror -- proposal mirrors the D.C...
NNAMDIWith the small exception that, I think, it's 18 in Montgomery County...
NNAMDI...and 17 in the...
OKONKWOThat's the major exception.
NNAMDIIn the District. Abigail Burman, you started a Facebook page opposing this youth curfew. Can you tell us about that, and why you did it?
BURMANSure. So I saw this legislation was being proposed. And I thought that it was an unfair bill that really wouldn't address the problems it was meant to solve and really wanted, you know, other youth in the county to speak up and have their say. And the Facebook page, which can be found at stopthecurfew.net, I initially thought it wouldn't grow past, you know, 100 members, maybe my friends.
BURMANBecause I think I made the mistake a lot of people do and underestimated the extent to which young people care about their community. And as the group has grown to around 5,000 members, I've really seen that young people...
NNAMDIFive thousand members you've got.
BURMANLast I checked, that's the number...
NNAMDIIn what period of time?
BURMANIt was started on July 12. So...
NNAMDIAnd this is July 20. In eight days or less, you've got 5,000 members.
BURMANYeah, so I think this is proof that kids really do care about their community. They want to be heard, and they're engaging in constructive ways. They've been signing a petition. They've been sending letters to their councilmen. It's proof that they're not just out being delinquents, that they have a stake in the community, too.
NNAMDIDaniel Okonkwo, how effective do you think youth curfews are?
OKONKWOI think that's one of the major questions here. It's -- the facts are really borne out that they're not as effective. One of the problems with a lot of curfew proposals is that they say that they want to keep young people safe and prevent youth crime, two, obviously, noble efforts.
OKONKWOHowever, the research shows that when youth are victimized and when they are actually committing delinquent acts happens after school hours and aren't -- doesn't happen in the times that is contemplated by most of these curfews. Most young people, who are arrested, are arrested, you know, before 9 p.m., even on weekends. And so a curfew of 11 o'clock really doesn't get at the heart of the issue of stopping youth crime.
OKONKWOOne other thing, too, that I'd like to mention is that there are also statutes on the books that deal with loitering, disturbing the peace, refusing to obey the orders of a police officer. Those are all statutes that are available to law enforcement in the District and in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIMarc Elrich, in the light of that, since those laws already exist, why did you feel it was important to have at least consideration of a curfew proposal?
ELRICHWell, the executive brings -- offers a proposal we consider. I mean, that's sort of a starting point. I think a lot of...
NNAMDIAnd this comes from Ike Leggett?
ELRICHThis comes from Ike Leggett, and I think a lot of us are considering it. But I think some -- this isn't about generalized youth behavior. This isn't a reaction or belief that the majority of teens need to be reined in. And, I think, you know, it's unfortunately true here. It's true about laws in general. Laws are written because a few people violate the social norms, and we respond as a society by passing laws which very often restrict everybody's behavior.
ELRICHYou know, my favorite example is I love to be able to walk in my neighborhood park after 8 o'clock. I'd get arrested by the police if I walked in my neighborhood park after 8 o'clock. Because I'm going to commit a crime? No. Because they don't think they can protect me in the park at night. What happened in Silver Spring a couple of weeks ago was very scary.
ELRICHAnd the problem was that the way the gangs reacted overwhelmed the police, that the police couldn't even get to them to say disperse in some cases because somebody on the edges says police are coming. They text each other. They scatter. And then they tell each other where to reconvene. And I think the police found themselves chasing these groups all over Silver Spring, which, frankly, takes them away...
NNAMDIFor those people who may not be aware of it, what happened on the evening of July 4 in Silver Spring?
ELRICHYou know, as it's been explained to me, groups came in from the District and from Prince George's County. And they then proceeded to engage each other. And there was one girl who was stabbed. She was, you know, allegedly a member of a gang. She was allegedly stabbed by a member of another gang. However, she's not cooperating in terms of saying who did what.
ELRICHThere was a series of fights that broke out that were sort of like a rolling assembly. They would come together, disperse, come together, disperse. And so the police, which are normally supposed to be in the downtown, in the core, round up scattered all over the place. And we don't have enough police to put people on every corner and deal with it. It's a real -- I think it kind of jarred people because it's not something we've seen before.
NNAMDIAbigail Burman, you have a comment?
BURMANSure. Well, as far as the terrible incident on July 4, this wasn't discussed before the curfew was raised. The first mention that I and the people I'm working with could find of it in any papers was when people are commenting on the curfew. So we don't know how old the people who were involved are, how late it happened, whether a curfew would have done anything to prevent it.
BURMANAnd if the police were having such a hard time chasing them then, how would they have been able to track them down for a curfew? And then to your point, that, you know, laws are meant to happen because a small people -- group of people misbehave. There is the law that you can't go in your park after 8:00, but this is so much more far reaching than that. This would effectively confine minors to their homes after curfew hours.
BURMANYou can't even go in a business. Like, if you want to go see a movie or grab a bite to eat, that business owner would be liable for legal reparations if they found you there.
ELRICHAnd I've talked to the principal owner of the project in Silver Spring, and he actually supports the curfew and doesn't think this would harm the local businesses. I mean, they -- he's as concerned about the impression that people get of a community. And I regret the way it was rolled out, too. I would have wished there had been more discussion of what the issue was.
ELRICHBut, you know, when you start talking about gangs, people will get very skittish about talking about them. We don't have a huge problem in Silver Spring. You know, this is -- I go there frequently. I don't feel unsafe in general. But if you create the perception that there's a problem and then people believe that perception, then you have a problem.
NNAMDIThere is a public hearing next week on the curfew proposal. Can you tell us about that? And, Abigail, are you aware of that? And do you plan on testifying in that public hearing?
BURMANYes. That was actually what the Facebook event was started for. So I will be testifying. I know that the student member of the board of education will be testifying, along with a few parents. The leader of a national youth rights organization will also be testifying. And, hopefully, we'll just have some people out there showing their support, talking about the completely safe legal activities they do after curfew hours.
NNAMDITony Hausner, you formed a community organization a few years ago. Safe Silver Spring, can you tell us about that?
HAUSNERAll right. Yeah, there were a number of neighborhoods that were feeling quite a bit of crime in their neighborhoods -- not a lot of crime, but enough crime that they were concerned -- and so we said let's address this issue. You know, some were breaking into cars, breaking into houses, nothing, not a lot of very serious crime but enough small crimes. So we said let's try to figure out how we can deal with this.
HAUSNERRight after we discussed that, there was the murder by a gang member from MS-13 of Tai Lam, an honor student, ninth grade, at Blair High School. And those two forces came together. We handled a summit in May of 2009. We had 140 people, federal, state and local officials and community people. And we came up with a set of recommendations. And those recommendations we've been working on for the past couple years.
HAUSNERAnd we're actually having a meeting tonight to talk about this legislative proposal and to talk about gangs and what we can do about gangs. So we invite everybody. It's at the Long Branch Community Center tonight at 7:30. There will be people from the police department, students, as well as one of the directors of the Street Outreach Network to talk about the pros and cons.
NNAMDII guarantee you it'll be a lively discussion because we discussed this topic when we did Kojo In Your Community in Silver Spring last year. And, well, it was all the way live. Here's Peggy in Potomac, Md. Peggy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PEGGYGood afternoon, all. I'd like to say how important this is, and the Montgomery County Civic Federation is looking into it. But, Abigail, I'd specifically like to ask you if your Web page lists all the exclusions, the reasons why minors could be out beyond the curfew and would not be subject to it? And does it make clear that this is as much to make minors who are out after the curfew safe during those late hours as it is older citizens?
BURMANWell, I can't remember our entire discussion off the top of my head. It's growing quite a bit. But I can tell you that we have been doing our best to moderate the page and inform people about the exceptions when they comment. And then as far as keeping young people safe, it doesn't mention that because we don't think that's what the law will actually do. It's been shown that these curfew laws do not reduce crime.
BURMANThey do not reduce the victimization of young people. A study of the curfew in PG showed that it really did nothing to reduce the victimization of people who were under curfew age along with the victimization of people who are over curfew age. And we think that it's up to every parent and every child to work out the system that will keep their kids safe the best. I'm 5'3". I'm really tiny.
BURMANAnd I've never felt unsafe walking around Silver Spring or any other downtown areas. And I just don't think that this law is needed to keep me safe.
NNAMDIYou may be 5'3", but you look quite formidable to me, I have to say, Abigail. But, Marc Elrich, the issue of exceptions -- a lot of teens work in the evening. Would a teen who is heading home from a job be subject to a curfew?
ELRICHWe're going to have to let people head home from jobs. We're going to have to let people head home from movies that let out at 11:15 or, you know, afterwards. This is why this is a work in progress and why the council did not jump on this and say, you know, it's an emergency. We're going to act on it, you know, before we go into recess in July. People said we really need to think about what we're doing.
ELRICHBut I think it's important to add that, you know, when I talked to a police chief, he said when they interviewed gang members who were involved in the incident, they specifically talked about being pushed out of D.C. and out of Prince George's County, and that this was the place they could come and gather. And for the idea that they are conscious of this and this is a place they can go is -- I think, is what drives this.
ELRICHI mean, I agree, this is no panacea. It doesn't deal with daytime crime, which is the vast majority of crime. If you have -- if you put it in effect today and you look forward a year from now, you might not see any downtick in late-night crime because there's not all that much late-night crime to begin with.
NNAMDIWell, you can't expect gang members to be excluded from the technology and communications revolution. They happen to be well-informed about what's going on in these parts. We're talking...
ELRICHNor are they all under 18.
NNAMDIWe're talking about proposed youth curfew in Montgomery County. Peggy, thank you so much for your call. We have to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation. If you have questions or comments, do you think youth curfews are effective in preventing teen violence? The number is 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIOr simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about youth curfews. There's already one in the District of Columbia and in Prince George's County. And the Montgomery County Council is considering such a proposal that came from County Executive Isiah Leggett. We're talking with Marc Elrich. He is a member of the Montgomery County Council and a member of the council's public safety committee.
NNAMDIHe joins us in studio along with Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of DC Lawyers for Youth. Daniel Okonkwo is also a member of WAMU's Community Council, the station's community advisory board. Abigail Burman will be a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. She just finished her junior year at Richard Montgomery High School. She's a Silver Spring resident.
NNAMDIAnd Tony Hausner is the founder and chair of Safe Silver Spring, a local community group. Before I go back to the phones, Daniel Okonkwo, I will start with you. It is clear that the major concern here are, well, maybe twofold -- gangs and other unruly youth. Is there another way, outside of curfews, that you feel that communities can deal with that probably more effectively?
OKONKWOWell, most certainly. I think one thing that we're seeing is a congregation of kids where there are positive activities for them to engage in. So I think the amount of activities that are available for young people -- one of the activities that's oft cited when we talk about these are kids going to a movie, you know, a perfectly legitimate, non-harmful activity that is -- that all kids engage in.
OKONKWOIf there's more activities for young people at different hours besides just after school, that's one way to kind of channel youthful energy into another direction.
NNAMDIYour thoughts on this, Tony Hausner?
HAUSNERWell, as I indicated, tonight, we're going to be talking about this legislation at the Safe Silver Spring meeting. And I want to hear people's thoughts, both the arguments for and against. I clearly agree that we need to do more besides just dealing with this curfew because a curfew, at best, is only a small piece of the puzzle.
HAUSNERBut one of the things we recommended last week to the two county executives from Montgomery and Prince George's is that there be a regional approach to gang issues, looking at positive youth development programs, continuing Truancy Court program, which was a pilot in Montgomery County and is about to expire. So there are a number of potential solutions that need to be addressed. I want to make one other comment.
HAUSNERYou know, the -- some of these gang fights that have occurred have occurred late at night. So not all crime's occurring in some of the more -- crime that's of more concern is occurring later at night, and...
NNAMDIBecause one of the things we hear about is that most crimes involving young people occur around four o'clock in the afternoon, or don't occur much after four o'clock in the afternoon. But, Abigail Burman, I was interested in the way you characterized the people who are coming to your website, the young people. You said they're interested in their communities. They're not coming to this website apparently only for self-centered reasons.
NNAMDISo I'm assuming that you also get suggestions there for how communities might better be able to deal with gang and youth violence.
BURMANWe definitely have. And I think that one of the biggest things we've seen is just the sense of profound alienation. Kids really don't feel like the police are interested in helping them, that their county is interested in their welfare or what they think. And I think people would really love to see a program where everyone got together because, in a lot of ways, these incidents affect the youth community just as much or even more than they do the adults.
BURMANI mean, you know, when teens are killed, that's a huge impact on the school. And I think that, you know, they want to see a program where maybe schools start talking about how to combat gang violence or how they can work with their friends, going out and creating community centers or art projects. And I just -- I went to a school for almost all of my life where there were large amounts of gang violence.
BURMANAnd I never once was talked to by a teacher about this or by any other official. We were just left out of the equation .
NNAMDIAnd you feel that if you are included in the equation, you have something constructive to contribute? Mark Elrich, I knew you have to leave us shortly, but, clearly, this -- even if it is enacted or not, this curfew is not going to be the solution to these problems. Do you feel that there's other things that have -- there are other things that have to be done, and if so, what?
ELRICHWell, I think there are other things that have to be done. First place, not all gang members are under 18. And so you could have a curfew, and it doesn't mean gang activity stops. But in a more fundamental level, I do think gang behavior is different than general youth misbehavior. And the efficacy in getting people out of gangs is pretty much slim and none.
ELRICHAnd I don't -- I think you'd be hard put -- to point to any effective program anywhere in the country in dealing with gangs. I think that you need -- you clearly need more youth programs. We try do a lot in the county. We coordinate with neighboring jurisdictions. I'm really committed and have pushed, you know, trying to do what you can do to expand recreational opportunities to keep kids engaged.
ELRICHBut when the wheels fall off and kids get to the point that they're engaged in a gang, the likelihood that you're going to pull that kid back by having another soccer match under the lights at eight o'clock or opening up something for basketball, I just don't think that that's there. We may -- I think we have other things we're going to need to do.
NNAMDIDaniel Okonkwo. And then Abigail, and then the volume of phone calls that we've been waiting for.
OKONKWOWell, yeah, I would respond to that to say that, you know, gang prevention is an uphill battle. But just as a basketball league or a soccer match may not be the cure-all, neither is saying go home at 11 o'clock. So I think what we have to do -- and gang prevention is something that has -- you know, obviously there are gangs. But there are programs that are more effective than others at stopping and interdicting gang violence.
OKONKWOAnd I think that there's a wealth of program -- there are wealth of programs out there, particularly from jurisdictions that have a much more pervasive problem than Montgomery County. And, you know, those community level interactions, you know, police, you know, taking time to do community policing and get to know their people that they are in charge of protecting are going to be more effective than simply just top-down legislation.
BURMANAnd as far as effective gang prevention programs, there was one remarkably successful program in Los Angeles. And, you know, it even worked in the slums of Brazil, where you just get the police and the community together. In Los Angeles, they had mentoring programs. They had community service. They were talking about, you know, what gangs can do to your life and the options that are cut off.
BURMANSo that's what we need to do get at the kids who haven't joined a gang yet. And then for the ones who have, our answer is just enforce existing laws because that is working. You know, you step up enforcing, you step up arrests, and crime goes down.
ELRICHI -- you know, I think you'd be hard put to tell me that Los Angeles is effective in eliminating gangs, nor the effect in the slums of Brazil. I mean, to say that it works in Los Angeles, I just think is not borne out by the facts in Los Angeles.
NNAMDIWell, you seem to be suggesting that there's absolutely nothing that we can do about gangs. And it seems to me that when you talk about individual programs that may have worked in one particular neighborhood for a specific period of time, the challenge is how do we universalize? How do we make -- expand those programs so that they're more effective in broader areas for longer periods of time?
NNAMDIDon't you think we can do that?
ELRICH...you raise a good question. And I think that there's -- a lot of what Montgomery County, a lot of what people do in general is intervene at the backend of the problem. You know, when you -- the wheels have fallen off in school here. You're unsuccessful academically. You realize you don't have much of a future. Easy prey and, you know, you feel like you're a victim when you're in school.
ELRICHAnd so you go find comfort in friendship outside of school. And I'm a believer that you really need -- if we want to tackle this problem, we have to do something very different at the early childhood stage. We -- this is where you need to engage kids and get them so that they are successful in school, so that their opportunities and their world view is different. I think it's all -- well, I just think it's a bigger problem.
NNAMDIBefore you go, I have one caller who has a question, I think, that is directed specifically to you, Marc Elrich. Here is Paul in Silver Spring. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULYes, hello. It's a pleasure to speak to you this morning. I'd like to thank Counselor Elrich for his efforts to sort of speak with the community to find compromise on this issue. I think the issue of the movies, particularly in Downtown Silver Spring, the Majestic Theater, there -- if the curfew is implemented, there should be an exception made, for instance, to people carrying ticket stubs from the Majestic. And...
NNAMDIAnd I think...
PAUL...I want to also assure you that the Silver Spring teen community is also against this gang activity. And so I appreciate the various forums and hearings that have already been set up to approach this issue.
NNAMDIPaul, I think Marc Elrich has already indicated that he thinks that people who are at the movies after 11 o'clock should get a -- should be passed.
PAULRight. And I just wanted to thank him for that, so...
PAUL...I appreciate that.
ELRICHCan I say one other thing, sir?
ELRICHYou know, part of the problem here is that we can't mandate levels of spending for programs in Prince George's County and the District, and that what's been identified is the people coming in across the borders to Silver Spring because it's a place they can actually come in congregates. So there is some level that no matter what the county does to try to work with kids in the county, we are limited somewhat in what happens outside Montgomery County.
BURMANWell, then, why are we...
NNAMDIPaul, thank you very much for your call. Go ahead, Abigail, and then Tony. And then we're going to take a short break.
BURMANYeah, if -- I -- well, but if the problem is kids from other counties, it's not fair to penalize every teen in Montgomery County for something that they're not doing wrong. And that just alienates them from the place from the community, and that's not what you want if you want to stop gang violence.
ELRICHAnd that's why we're weighing what we should do.
HAUSNERTwo things: one, as I vindicated, we recommending that there be a regional task force to look at these issues 'cause you need to deal with both the gang violence as well as youth programs and truancy courts programs at all age levels. I agree with Marc. You need to work at early ages, but you also need to work with kids who are most at risk, for instance, kids who are truant.
HAUSNERSo we've got to use a variety of programs, put more emphasis on a number of these programs and work as a region on these issues 'cause they're coming from all over the region.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. If you have called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing youth curfews with Abigail Burman. She will be a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. She just finished her junior year at Richard Montgomery High School. She is a resident of Silver Spring. Also in studio with us is Tony Hausner, founder and chair of Safe Silver Spring, a local community group, and Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of DC Lawyers for Youth.
NNAMDIDaniel is also a member of WAMU's community council, the station's community advisory board. Daniel, you wanted to say something?
OKONKWORight. What I feel -- just before the break, I think I have to put on my District hat and stick out for the District. And I know that there -- you know, it's been said that a lot of kids are going into Silver Spring from the District. But, you know, we talked earlier in the show that the District does have its own curfew. Young people aren't going to Silver Spring and staying there. They have to come back. That's contemplated by the D.C. curfew.
OKONKWOSo I think that the belief that setting a curfew for Montgomery County will stop young people from traveling to where there are activities that are good for them to do, I don't think is very realistic. You know, one of -- there is also -- the last caller noted that there was to be an exception for movies. I think there are plenty of legitimate activities that young people engage in.
OKONKWOIf you are at a friend's house until midnight and you drive home, you're out past the curfew. And you weren't at a movie. So I think that -- you know, I'm heartened by the fact that Marc Elrich said that this is a work in progress. I think this is an important discussion, and I'm heartened by that. But I think there has to be a deep, a really deep understanding of what these laws actually do and can do.
NNAMDIWell, there are a lot of people who want to participate in this discussion. So let us talk with Dina in Bethesda, Md. Dina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DINAHi. Thank you. When I first heard about the curfew, I was opposed to it, as an 18-year-old Bethesda resident. But then, after thinking about it, I realized that I was actually in favor of it. You know, Maryland already has the driving curfews. So thinking back to when I was in high school, you know, I was always -- I was often home by midnight already because of the driving curfew, and that already dictated, you know, social life after night.
DINAAnd while I commend the intelligent discussions that's been happening among high school students on the Internet, I'm a little worried that sometimes people aren't realizing that there -- this -- the magnitude of this issue that it's -- the issue of stopping gang violence is bigger, is a bigger problem than, oh, it's unfair, oh, I can't go to movies. And I'd like to say to Abigail that I'm also 5'3", and sometimes I don't like walking alone at night.
DINAAnd I'm glad that the county is taking steps to improve safety. And it sounds like the county is realizing that this is not the, you know, the end-all to gang violence, but it's, you know, a Band-Aid that they can throw on. And stopping gang violence takes years, generations. So if this is something that the county is saying, you know, we can't stop gang violence now, but this is something -- a Band-Aid we can throw on to help at least for a little while, I think that's a good thing.
NNAMDIDina, thank you very much for your call. And, Abigail, allow me to pile on with this email from Jonathan in D.C., who says, "Sorry. But this young lady..." -- meaning you -- "...is from one of the nations most elite private schools. This curfew is not about her. However, perhaps she can discuss the reason someone under the age of 18 needs to be out after 11. Frankly, I'd move it to 10:30.
NNAMDI"Yes, I am for the curfew because late-night fun often translates to trouble. Plus, it's been proven that kids need their sleep. Let's go nationwide on this." How do you respond both to that and to Dina?
BURMANWell, first, as to where I go school, I go to Andover now. But I grew up in one of the regions where there is a lot of gang activity. There were gangs in my neighborhood. I have heard shots fired at night. I went to schools where there was a gang warning on the front of our Web page, letting parents know that this was happening, even with kids as young as 11 and 12. This is very real for me. This is my community. This is where I live.
BURMANAnd I think that there are things you do late at night. I go swing dancing. One of my friends is partial to stargazing. He goes out and takes long exposures, and even just talking a walk at night if you're an insomniac. And I think that, as to Dina, if you feel unsafe, I completely understand. But we really think that that's a choice every person has the right to make. Every person has a choice to weigh the risk for themselves.
BURMANAnd we agree that gang violence is a big problem in our community, and we really want to combat it. But the studies show that having a curfew will do nothing to stop gang violence. And it may even make it worse by alienating the people you need to be working with to combat this. We want to have a discussion about engaging youth, about engaging the rest of the community and how we can, you know, put an end to this without confining people to their homes.
BURMANBecause when you take away the right to be on the streets, when you tell people, the streets aren't for you after this time, you've given them to the criminals. You've said that this community doesn't fully belong to us any more.
NNAMDIHere is -- Dina, thank you for your call. Here is Chris in Washington D.C. Chris, your turn.
CHRISHi. I was calling to say that it's easy to throw a Band-Aid onto a problem at the cost of people who are politically disenfranchised, like blacks for 50 years ago and like women for 100 years ago. And there's fundamentally no difference between a curfew for people under the age of 18 and a curfew for African-Americans or Latinos or women. And also, everybody on the panel has admitted that this will not solve the problem.
CHRISAnd it probably won't make the problem any better. So not only are you infringing on the rights of a large group of people, but you're doing it for no perceivable results. I'll take my comment off the air.
NNAMDICare to respond to that all, Tony Hausner?
HAUSNEROkay. Couple thoughts, one is that I hear from a number of parents and a number of kids that they're feeling unsafe in Silver Spring. That's not majority, but enough of them. So that's certainly a major concern. We're hearing from the business community, a great deal of concern about the gang activity, particularly we're about to open up the Fillmore music hall. And I think people are concerned that's going to bring a lot of teenagers.
HAUSNERAnd they're concerned that there will be gangs coming along with that group. Let me talk a little bit about the research. I -- majority of studies I've seen agree that curfews don't make a difference. But I have seen some studies that do. So we need to examine that literature more carefully. One study that's important, which was alluded to, there have been restrictions on driving for teenagers.
HAUSNERAnd that's made a big difference in terms of reducing speeding, reducing accidents. So policies that targets teenagers can be effective. So we certainly need to keep that in mind, too.
NNAMDIAbigail and Daniel Okonkwo, there -- the column made reference to disenfranchised people. And you think of disenfranchised and then you think of race and gender in America. There are, in the eyes of some people -- if one reads Courtland Milloy's column in The Washington Post today -- some fairly disturbing racial aspects to this. Are there, Daniel?
OKONKWOWell, I think that that is one concern, particularly when referring to -- you know, as we said earlier, referring to young people from D.C. and Prince George's County coming into Silver Spring. I think one of the concerns, too, is that things like this also -- at least, for one, with juvenile justice perspective, why didn't the net of young people that are brought into contact with the system?
OKONKWOAs Abigail said earlier, this is another reason that can be used to, you know, make kids come into contact with the system. There are existing laws on the books. And it is -- it can be troubling when we continue to make policy about young people who don't have a say in that process. And I think that's one of the -- probably one of the concerns that a lot of the young people who have signed up for this Facebook page are concerned with, that this policy is being made. It affects them, and they have no say.
NNAMDIWe did speak with one teen in the District who had an experience with the curfew here. Let's hear what she had to say.
MS. TAILOR COBLEOn Halloween of 2009, I was in Georgetown with one of my best friends. And the 30 buses stopped running, so we had to walk to another bus stop. And it took us 30 minutes to walk to the next bus stop. And by that time, it was 12 o'clock. And curfew police came up, and they asked us how old we were. And we told them that we were 15, and they picked us up. And you get written up whenever you get caught by curfew, so we were written up.
MS. TAILOR COBLEAnd the third time that you're out for curfew, you have to go to youth court and appeal to the judges at youth court. We were aware that it was a curfew, but I thought that it would be different because it was a holiday. Police could spend their time better or in a wiser way than picking up kids who are already on their way home.
NNAMDIThat's Tailor Coble. She's a senior in the School Without Walls in the District of Columbia. She's also a participant in WAMU -- at WAMU's summer Youth Voices program. But then, Abigail, there's this from Catherine in Wheaton. "If these kids just want to hang out, why is it that I can never pass any of these kids without hearing some misogynistic or some other sexual taunt and the worst language, I mean, the most foul, vulgar, disgusting language imaginable?
NNAMDI"Why does this always happen when I'm in downtown Silver Spring? It keeps me from shopping, from eating and going to the movies there. If kids behave better, there would be no need for a curfew. And if you don't believe me, go down to the intersection where there's a Chick-fil-A and just stand there for five minutes and observe how the kids, mostly boys, behave."
BURMANWell, first, as a member of my campus' domestic and sexual assault awareness group, I have to say that I hang out in Silver Spring. Me and my friends don't say misogynistic things. And I believe I was reading the transcript from the Safe Silver Spring Summit in 2009 where it mentioned that a lot of the worst offenders are adult males. You don't know if these people are under 18.
BURMANAnd if the curfew takes effect at 11, they -- and you're going out at 7 or early in the evening, it sounds like, that won't make a difference. And I think the way you want to combat that is by going into schools, going into communities and just sending a very clear message that this language is not okay. But simply taking people off the streets won't change their ideas of what is acceptable.
NNAMDIAnd tomorrow on this broadcast, we're doing a segment on what you might call the coarsening of the culture, the increase in profanity in our culture in general and, particularly, incivility in general. But here is Edwin in Silver Spring, Md. Edwin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDWINHi, Kojo, how are you doing today?
EDWINOkay. My name is -- I'm -- my name is Edwin. I live in Briggs Chaney, Silver Spring.
EDWINI'm afraid this curfew may be used by the police. They may abuse this authority to intimidate the youth. The reason being I live in Briggs Chaney, Castle Boulevard, in particular. And for the past 1 1/2 weeks, I've been observing police officers stopping cars, and mostly, I think, they look young, say, between 16 to 20. And whenever they stop a car, we see, even a short time, four or five other police cars, and they take the youth out of the car.
EDWINThey seat them down, and they check the car. And this has been going on consistently for the past 1 1/2 weeks. And I was very concerned because I think the police are just trying to intimidate the youth. So is there (unintelligible) youths who are kind of stigmatized. They're afraid of the police. So, in addition to this, I've never seen the police, Montgomery Police trying to interact with the youth.
EDWINThey should try to have some youth program and recreation activities with the youth so that they should have an interaction to be like friends because...
EDWIN...if they make the youth alienated, the youth are going to avoid the police. And they may not be helped.
NNAMDIEdwin, I'm going to put you on hold. You have made a number of allegations about how police in Montgomery country act. And if you listen while you're on hold, we can hear what D.J. in Shady Grove, Md., has to say because, I think, D.J., you are a Montgomery County police officer?
D.J.Yes, I am. I'm with the Park Police in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, D.J.
D.J.And I -- and, for one, I will say, you know, our agency does participate in the Homework Club, which is an -- you know, an afterschool program in the Long Branch area, which gives us an opportunity to interact with youth and kind of give them positive interactions with law enforcement. And as a part of the community services unit, I do a lot of talks to youth, you know, about what we do and about safety and, you know, those kind of rules.
D.J.But what I will say is that I do agree with the curfew, and I guess I'll direct this comment towards Abigail. If you look at the majority of youth, like you said, the activities that you participate in, swing dancing, and your friend that stargazes, they're -- that's the minority, I think, of youth in Montgomery County, are participating in those kind of activities.
D.J.So I think having the curfew would isolate the people that are not -- that aren't doing illegal activities from the ones that are, so that they can be easily dealt with with law enforcement. If you see -- it's black and white. You know, there's a child out after 11 o'clock or whatever the proposed curfew time is. As an officer, you can approach that child right away and say, you know, what is your business here?
D.J.Are you leaving? Are you going home? Instead of having -- and if you don't have a curfew, these kids are hanging out. And we have -- you know, there's no recourse to go to them and approach them. It's almost like you have to wait for something to happen and then, you know, be able to approach the kids from that. But by then, sometimes it's too late because they've already committed what they were going to do.
BURMANSure. Well, first of all, I would completely disagree with your characterization of youth in Montgomery County. We are not all criminals. I have gone to a number of schools in this county, and, almost without exception, everyone I've met has been lovely.
NNAMDIThe stargazers and the swing dancers are not the exception.
BURMANWe're not. We really aren't because if there are more criminals, then, you know, you'd have half of the youth population in jail. And I think that -- I agree. If there are young people out there doing bad stuff, then we have existing laws that can combat them...
NNAMDIWhich brings me to the young people who are committing the bad stuff because, Daniel Okonkwo, chronic offenders commit more than half of all serious or violent crimes. People in law enforcement make the argument that curfew laws are aimed at that particular group -- chronic offenders. Isn't it important to have a tool that allows them to target those chronic offenders?
OKONKWOMy response to that and to the last -- to D.J. would be to say that there are existing statutes that can be enforced. I mean, I can count at least five statutes that deal with hindering the passage of someone, disorderly conduct, failing to obey the reasonable order of a -- lawful order of a law enforcement officer, disturbing the peace. All of those are on the books.
OKONKWOAnd as the caller just said, you know, if they are engaged in legal activities, that activity is already illegal. There are laws to deal with that. Having a curfew law that allows someone to just approach and say, what are you doing, goes to what I said earlier about widening the net of young people that come into contact with the system.
OKONKWOOne of the things that I will say, too, is that the more we have kids coming in contact with the system, if these systems aren't truly rehabilitated, the more likely kids are going to re-offend. So if we're truly concerned about long-term solutions, then we should be concerned about keeping kids out of systems rather than putting them into systems, which is what this curfew law contemplates doing.
NNAMDID.J., thank you for your call. Tony Hausner?
HAUSNERFirst of all, I want to address the comment about Castle Boulevard. From what I've heard from police and quite a few teenagers, there's quite a bit of drug sales going on in that neck of the woods. This is what I've heard. I can't say how accurate this is. And, therefore, that is why you're probably seeing a lot of increased police activity these days. It's being targeted because of all the concentrated activity there.
HAUSNERI agree that we need a much more comprehensive approach to this and that we need to do this on a regional basis because people -- the gangs are coming from all over the region. I see why -- two of the reasons for this curfew law. One, it gives police and the county tools to discourage people from coming here.
HAUSNERAnd it gives them one additional tool to take action when kids who appear to -- who are engaged in inappropriate illegal activities or in violent activities or, you know, hanging around with what appears to be...
NNAMDIWe're just about out of time. But I'd like to remind our listeners that you are sponsoring a forum tonight, and that is Safe Silver Spring. Time and place?
HAUSNERIt's 7:30 at Long Branch Community Center on Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring.
NNAMDIAnd, Abigail Burman, you will be there.
BURMANI will be there.
NNAMDIAbigail Burman is a senior at -- she will be a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDITony Hausner is the founder and chair of Safe Silver Spring. Tony, thank you for joining us.
HAUSNERThank you so much for having this.
NNAMDIAnd Daniel Okonkwo is executive director of DC Lawyers for Youth and a member of WAMU's Community Council, the station's community advisory board. Daniel, thank you for joining us.
OKONKWOThank you again for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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