City Council passed a strict curfew bill today despite vocal opposition from youth organizers, Occupy Philly members, college professors, parents, former teachers, youth – and one councilwoman.
"Former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said that we can't arrest our way out of crime," said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who cast the lone vote against the legislation. "We can't fine our way out of curfew violations, either. We need to take a positive approach."
"I don't believe in it and it won't work," she continued. "People working two and three jobs can't follow their children around. A fine won't change that."
25 people spoke against the curfew bill during the contentious public testimony portion of the hearing, including MOVE activist Pam Africa and independent mayoral candidate Wali "Diop" Rahman. At least 20 more stood in solidarity, waving signs, booing and hissing at legislators and breaking out into a chant of "Shame, shame," when the bill passed. They marched out of the hearing en masse to cries of, "We need schools, not the curfew."
Last week, Mary Catherine Roper of the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU said that the bill was "almost certainly unconstitutional" and would "invite litigation."
Critics also said that research studies elsewhere show curfew measures are not effective in reducing crime, that financial resources could be better used providing educational initiatives and positive youth alternatives and that the legislation would be disproportionately enforced against the poor and people of color.
"In order to support the curfew bill, we would have to be able to trust that the police would not use racial profiling when enforcing it," said Occupy Philly member Susanna Martin. "I don't think that trust is realistic." She pointed to an incident in July 2010 in which police on South Street cleared young people from the area on horseback and with nightsticks.
"To me, the racism was clear. I'm a white woman in my 30s, and I was yelling at the police, asking why they were doing this, yelling about our rights, but they ignored me and allowed me to walk wherever I chose," she said. "However, the young black people were treated very differently ... They were being corralled and forcibly marched for almost ten blocks up to Broad Street. And it was deeply humiliating, because they were not doing anything, except being out. Their city was telling them they were garbage."
Mayor Michael Nutter's Chief of Staff and former Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison testified to remind people that the bill applies citywide and that its language does not explicitly target certain neighborhoods or minority populations. "The idea this effort is just to criminalize youth – that is not the case," he said. "Targeting kids and making sure they get home safe, that is the true intent of the bill."
Both Gillison and bill sponsor Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who called the testimony "enlightening," said that they would be willing to talk with opponents to address their concerns. "The administration and members of Council are interested in continuing dialogue with youth advocates," Brown said. "Everett Gillison and I will sit down and figure out how to approach meeting with them."
She also said that she would review statistics to determine if the measure was effective much sooner than in two years, when the bill sunsets. "We live in a world where everybody will have a say, but at the end of the day, the majority will have their way," she added.
"This city is controlled by business. The shop owners didn't even have to show up – not one testified – and the bill still passed." said Adan Stevens Diaz, who spoke out in opposition. "The one person showing support for the bill was from the administration. I think that speaks for itself."
The curfew for 16 and 17 year olds will begin at 10 p.m., for 14 and 15 year olds at 9 p.m. and for children 13 and under at 8 p.m., with weekend hours the same as weeknights. Parents will face $75 fines if their children are picked up in violation.
"This isn't over," said John Phillips, who said that Occupy Philly will almost certainly stage some kind of further action against the bill's passage. "We'll be back."