GUEST COMMENTARY: Curfews are not the solution to youth crime in Columbia

Saturday, July 6, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:12 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 16, 2013

David Rosman’s June 26 column, “Gang violence fix will require societal revamp,” was right on target.

Here are additional thoughts:

Curfews are repressive and cause more rebellion and lengthen the distance to a solution that we all seek — stopping violence in our community.

I remember my father telling me how this works. He told of a high school teacher who, at the beginning of a school year, used his authority and boldly wrote on a chalkboard in all capital letters: “DO NOT WRITE ON THIS CHALKBOARD WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM ME!”

That year, this particular instructor had more problems with students writing on his board than any other teacher. The students interpreted the teacher’s rule as a challenge, and so it became a "badge of honor" to write on his board.

Granted, this teacher had a right to control “his” board, and we may not approve of the student’s actions. But whenever individuals, belongings or places are newly restricted by commands to obey, humans — whether we like it or not — have a strong tendency to resist and rebel and test its limits, especially if the restriction is seen as unwarranted.

Enforcing curfews

Likewise with curfews. How will parents be able to restrict their youth and put them under “house-arrest” night after night?

We like to think of our homes as a safe haven, an environment where we work to love and respect each other. But, city-mandated curfews produce a prison-like atmosphere and destroy those positive family intentions.

Curfews raise a number of other questions:

  1. Would the City Council impose a top-down law without consulting parents and children or considering how such a restrictive law would affect them?
  2. How would a curfew be decided on?
  3. If a young person, doing nothing wrong, is found on our downtown streets during “forbidden” hours, would the police give chase and use potentially lethal force in apprehending a curfew-breaker?
  4. Teens often hang around and talk to other teens their age. What if a dozen or more curfew-breakers in one location would need to be apprehended?
  5. How much would a curfew increase 911 calls?
  6. How much taxpayer money, time, energy and force would it take for our police officers and an already overburdened court system to enforce a curfew?
  7. What would the penalties be, and how can economically strapped families pay fines?
  8. What is the penalty if the same teen breaks a Columbia curfew time after time?
  9. How would families visiting Columbia learn about and react to a curfew?
  10. How would a curfew affect the relationship between police officers and residents and out-of-town visitors to Columbia?

If the teacher’s threatening blackboard edict serves as a lesson, we shouldn’t mandate laws where age and location alter the definition of wrongdoing and then be surprised when we see spin-offs of negative resident, tourist and police aggression.

A better safety net

Curfews aren’t the safety net we seek. We must stop pretending that curfews will restore more order. Resorting to a curfew that “boxes in” our parents and children into an unworkable situation will only increase problems and waste money.

Instead, I’d like us to think through how we can better invest in our families by making all of Columbia’s publicly funded events, activities and recreational facilities open to all regardless of their economic situation.

This is a big deal. I think about our taxpayer-funded Parks and Recreation Department. Check out the fees in their booklets and think of the large number of youth who live in poverty in our city.

Ask: “How can the youth living in this low-income bracket afford the required fees?” This lack of access to publicly financed activities is called "economic discrimination," and it’s been fueling bitterness and division for a long time.

Poor ARC solution

Recall, for example, over a dozen years ago, the campaign our City Council promoted for the Activities and Recreation Center. Columbia families were promised that, if they voted for a sales tax to fund an activity and recreation center, all Columbians would have access.

But when the fee schedule came out, it was clear that tens of thousands of adults and children would, day-after-day, be paying the regressive sales tax, but there would be no sliding scale and "those poor people" would, day-after-day, be left outside.

As one person said, “We can’t get in. We just get to press our noses against the glass.”  People organized and objected, but nothing changed. I now regret that I, like others, fell for that "access for all" line and voted for the ARC.

Bestowing bits of charity here and there will not address the disparity issue. Charity is well-meaning but sporadic and often gives access only to "lucky ones."

Our Department of Parks and Recreation should set fees based on one’s ability to pay. If we have the will, this can be done so that no one is embarrassed or seen as inferior. Also, there should be no charge for scheduled not-for-profit use of our ARC meeting rooms.

Equal chances for everyone

Giving everyone the opportunity to participate in the wide variety of Columbia’s indoor and outdoor activities will benefit us all, meaning of course that we’ll need a larger budget for the Parks and Recreation Department.

Another problem that can be corrected is that our city, year-after-year, gives funding and public assets to support several for-profit business events, but, because of the cost of admission, these events fail to make community access available.

Bottom line: Why do all taxpayers have to pay for what amount to private events? To correct this inequality, the council should require that if any event uses city buses, sanitation workers, police protection, fire protection, public equipment, public buildings, parks, etc., either the event must be available to all or costs for these services would be reimbursed to our city coffers.

Columbia will be less violent, and we and our children much healthier and safer, if we intentionally and creatively invest our public funds to create a city that is united and just.

Mary Hussmann is an organizer with GRO-Grass Roots Organizing in Columbia.


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Michael Williams July 6, 2013 | 3:41 p.m.

Like Rosman's missive, the solutions presented in this essay have been tried for decades to the tune of billions of dollars and infinite "trying"......and all are abject failures. These solutions are utterly bankrupt and do not work.


I'm glad you wrote the essay, however. It gives me a chance to respond to a few points, as follows:

1. "That year, this particular instructor had more problems with students writing on his board than any other teacher."

Me: I bet that's true. It's true because there were no serious consequences to the offender. Lack of serious consequences is a primary cause for repeat offenses. I'm not saying the teacher was at fault, although he might have been. It's more probable that the school system was populated by progressive thinking and had removed threats of negative consequences, making the decision process either neutral or in favor of the offense.

2. "How will parents be able to restrict their youth and put them under “house-arrest” night after night?"


" curfews produce a prison-like atmosphere and destroy those positive family intentions."

Me: The first quotation is an abject failure to understand this thing called "parenting". Millions of parents restrict the activities of their children with no harm and few offenses, mainly because they "parent" instead of performing as innocent bystanders.

The second quotation, accompanying a few words from the first, includes words like "house arrest" and "prison". Again, this is a parenting problem. If that's how you view the atmosphere of your home, how you make homelife uninteresting, then you shouldn't have had kids in the first place.

3. "...humans — whether we like it or not — have a strong tendency to resist and rebel and test its limits."

Me: Exactly right. But, with proper parenting and the threat of bad consequences, we usually recover and become decent citizens/adults.

4. "What is the penalty if the same teen breaks a Columbia curfew time after time?"

Me: Back in my day, we called it "reform school." That threat sure worked for me.

5. "Equal chances for everyone"

Me: You mean equal outcomes. Right?

This essay supports my stereotype for poor parenting. It drips with the stuff.........

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 6, 2013 | 7:57 p.m.

"Children...have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households...They contradict their parents...and terrorize their teachers." - Socrates

Was Socrates a Liberal or a Conservative? My education in that area is faulty: ABET-accredited engineering curricula don't include the study of ancient Greece. I WAS taught that Archimedes the mathematician is also considered to be a prototype engineer. Among other accomplishments, Archimedes is credited with inventing the helical screw. Today "screw" is both a noun and a transitive verb.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 6, 2013 | 8:17 p.m.

Ellis: I was able to access the archives of the Athens Post Dispatch dated 424 BC. Cost me 6 bucks for a subscription.....

In your quotation, Socrates was a conservative railing against the failed, progressive, social "solutions" posted by one Mariandros Hussmanopolos.

PS: These "solutions" have been around for a long time and their continuity depends solely upon a new generation of dupes every 20 years or so. I was a McGovern dupe once-upon-a-time, but I grew up.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 7, 2013 | 3:29 a.m.


As always, you are a tower of strength and wisdom in these unsettled times. Bless you!

If I may be allowed to post yet another quote:

"Our leaders must remember that education doesn't begin with some isolated bureaucrat in Washington. It doesn't even begin with state or local officials. Education begins in the home, where it is a parental right and RESPONSIBILITY*. - President Ronald Reagan (1982)

*- Emphasis mine.

(Report Comment)

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