In an effort to curb the violent flash mobs that have plagued Philadelphia recently, Mayor Michael Nutter instituted a stricter curfew for the city’s youth in some neighborhoods.
Since Aug. 9, minors under 18 have not been allowed to be out of their homes past 9 p.m. in Center City and University City on Fridays and Saturdays. Other neighborhoods retain the usual 10 p.m. curfew for minors under 13 and midnight curfew for minors under 18. Violators may be fined between $100 and $300, and their parents may be fined up to $500 for multiple violations. The city considers the curfew to be so effective that it has been extended until the normal school-year curfew goes into effect after Labor Day.
Nutter said the curfew is “strict and serious and there are no exceptions.”
His statement may apply to native residents of Philadelphia, but there are — of course — exceptions for Penn students. Penn’s Division of Public Safety has assured Penn freshmen that their New Student Orientation activities will be unimpeded and that they will be largely unaffected by the curfew.
This favoritism has clear racial and class connotations. The young people that this curfew targets are, on the whole, black and less affluent than most Penn students. Police officers tasked with enforcing the curfew will likely resort to racial profiling to determine which young people to stop on the street. This practice may foster resentment and indignation, especially among those members of Philadelphia’s young black population who have done nothing wrong, were not part of the violent flash mobs and are still subject to a stricter curfew.
The racial profiling is an unfortunate consequence of the curfew’s enforcement. But it is also inevitable if the government wants to allocate its resources efficiently. The recent spate of flash mobs and youth violence — which went so far as to send innocent people to the hospital — were committed by young black people in Center City and University City. Just as it makes sense for Nutter to implement the curfew in just those two neighborhoods, so too does it make sense to be stricter toward black youth. It is only regrettable that well-behaved young black people must bear some of the punishment aimed at their guilty peers.
Nutter himself singled out the young black men who perpetrated the violence when he said, “You’ve damaged yourself; you’ve damaged another person; you’ve damaged your peers; and quite frankly you’ve damaged your race.”
The city has done well not only to implement the curfew, but also to couple it with youth programs. It expanded hours for 20 recreation centers throughout Philadelphia to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
But the costs of these policies remain high. The stricter curfew costs $56,000 in extra patrols each weekend, a sum that isn’t sustainable. Extra staffing and overtime at the recreation centers cost an additional $35,000.
The curfew is an effective short-term solution to curbing crime but must soon be followed up with long-term policies that address the underlying contributors to the violence.
For this, Nutter is turning to schools, to parents and families and to the private sector for help. He is asking parents to be better role models for their children. He is asking businesses to help create summer and after-school work opportunities.
With federal financial support for youth programs dwindling, private businesses must help ensure that Philadelphia’s youth are positive and productive members of society. Doing so would only be to the businesses’ advantage. The violence of the flash mobs is detrimental to Philadelphia’s image as a tourist destination and harms the city’s economy.
Philadelphia’s stricter curfew has served as a good band-aid to the problem of youth violence. It is now time to heal the wound underneath.
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