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Youth activist argues for end to city's curfew

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BY JOE BUTTWEILER

Journal Times

RACINE - Saying that curfews are discriminatory and unconstitutional, a leader of a small but growing national youth rights group has asked the city of Racine to repeal its curfew.

City officials met the idea with great skepticism, but apparently will consider the request at the Aug. 28 meeting of the city's Public Safety and Buildings Committee.

The city curfew prohibits youngsters under the age of 18 from being outside between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

"We believe curfews violate the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble,'' said Daniel McGuire, of 825 Wisconsin Ave.

McGuire, a member of Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions, said his group feels curfew laws are akin to racial discrimination and should be eliminated.

Curfews also usurp parents' power by denying them the right to let their kids stay out later as a reward for good behavior, said McGuire, 21.

He cited a California study that found "no support for the hypothesis that jurisdictions with curfews experience lower crime levels, accelerated youth crime reduction, or lower rates of juvenile violent death than jurisdictions without curfews.''

"A curfew doesn't prevent people from doing crime. It's just basically punishing everyone for the sins of a few,'' said McGuire, who is a member of ASFAR's board of directors.

Several communities have repealed curfews, he said, and some have been found unconstitutional.

Inspector John Costabile of the Racine Police Department said he would strongly oppose a curfew repeal.

"It's very important for parents to keep their children under control and know where they are,'' he said.

"After 11 o'clock there's really not much to do but get in trouble,'' said Costabile, who is second in command of Racine police.

He said there are many better ways to reward kids than putting them in harm's way.

"I certainly wouldn't reward my children by saying they can stay out to 3 in the morning or have unlimited access. That's not being a parent.''

The 11 p.m. curfew also keeps peace and order in neighborhoods, he said. "You wouldn't believe how many calls we get about kids outside after curfew disturbing the neighborhood.''

He said he didn't have complete totals readily available for last year, but through July 31 of this year the department issued 207 curfew violation citations to kids and 25 to parents. That compares with 1999 totals of 204 and 48.

Parents are legally responsible for ensuring their children obey the curfew, but it is up to officers to decide if the parents should be cited.

Previous totals reported by The Journal Times showed 424 citations to minors and 183 to their parents or guardians in 1997, and 468 citations to minors in 1996.

Costabile said he doesn't think the department has any data to say juvenile crime is lower because of the curfew.

"But one of the reasons we enforce it is to keep kids out of harm's way," he said. "Too frequently we see victims of crimes who were out after curfew. I have a high degree of respect for kids, but not all of them know all the time what's good for them and what isn't.''

He said the only curfew ordinances being thrown out are those that are vague or too broad.

Lt. Al Luther said lifting the curfew would be nonsense. "I've worked plenty of nights. Without having a curfew, things would get out of hand.''

Mayor Jim Smith also disagrees with McGuire's idea.

"As a parent I liked the curfew,'' Smith said. "I knew that my children were required to be in the house by 11 o'clock. I think most parents think there's no reason for kids to be out to 1, 2 in the morning.''

He said that as mayor, he gets a lot more calls to enforce the curfew than to ease up, and the city does make exceptions for special events.

McGuire, who calls himself an activist, said some businesses are hurt by curfews. He said he's interested in buying a downtown cafe that attracts young customers, but said that's not a reason he is pushing for the curfew repeal.

McGuire said that when kids are already complaining there's not enough to do, it could be helpful to lift the ban on when they may be out.

He said ASFAR has about 500 members nationally, including about 13 in Racine. The organization's Web site is www.asfar.org, and its e-mail address is info@asfar.org.

The organization also opposes alcohol bans for teen-agers and compulsory education laws, McGuire said.

The Aug. 28 meeting is expected to be at 5:15 p.m. in room 301 of City Hall, 730 Washington Ave.

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