Chicago’s New 10 P.M. Curfew for Teens Is Not the Answer

Mayor Lori Lightfoot thinks keeping teens out of community spaces at night will solve gun violence. It won't.

Chicago’s New 10 P.M. Curfew for Teens Is Not the Answer
Image:Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/ Press Conference

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has issued a stricter curfew for teens in response to the fatal Millennium Park “Bean” shooting over the weekend, moving the previous city-wide curfew of 11 p.m. up to 10 p.m. She thinks this will solve the influx of large gatherings in the park and increased gun violence in the area. The new ordinance decrees that from Thursday through Sunday, children under 18 are banned from the park after 10 p.m.—and after 6pm without a “responsible” adult.

“I think the vast majority of young people that were out there on Saturday night were out there to try and have fun and enjoy a summer evening,” Lightfoot said in her Monday morning statement. “Unfortunately, we saw tragedy happen because young people carry guns downtown, and that is simply not going to be acceptable.”

Lightfoot’s comments come on the heels of yet another mass shooting. During what looked like a demonstration, hundreds of teens gathered in the park Saturday night, several of whom were carrying unidentified firearms. As the night went on and tensions grew, 17-year-old Marin Richardson opened fire, fatally shooting 16-year-old Seandell Holliday in the chest. As of today, Chicago police have charged Richardson with second-degree murder, aggravated battery, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

“Anyone entering the park should be able to exhibit decency,” Lightfoot said. “We must also have zero tolerance for young people carrying firearms or settling petty disputes with acts of violence.”

Lightfoot plans to ensure that new curfew polices are “strictly enforced, and violations will be dealt with swiftly,” Mayor Lightfoot said during the official press conference. Questions remain as to how the city plans to enforce the curfew and what constitutes a particular adult chaperone as “responsible.” The plan also doesn’t address the fact that juvenile curfews, especially when enforced by more policing, cause more damage to minority communities and waste police resources, as social justice organizations like the Marshall Project and the National Youth Rights Association have outlined in their research.

By enforcing the curfew at such a big park in the heart of downtown, Black and brown teens will bear the brunt of elevated police presence and an increased racial profiling. The NYRA’s research shows that curfews are proven to be ineffective at reducing crime, fosters increased punishment of non-criminal behavior, does not target the groups it’s intended to, and more often than not, results in discriminatory actions like “stop and frisk”. In addition, juvenile crimes are shown to be committed during 2pm and 8pm, on average.

The ACLU punctuated this point by saying, “The vague description—relying on an undefined ‘responsible adult’–allowing young people to be present in the park and the promise of strict enforcement will result in unnecessary stops and arrests and further strain relations between CPD and young people of color.”

Building barriers to keep teens out of public recreational areas is like putting a Band-Aid over a busted pipe. Lightfoot’s comments continue to wag fingers at teens, place sole responsibility on parents, and ignore the root cause of juvenile violence such as poverty, economic disparities, and lack of community interventions. Alternatively, by partnering with local nonprofits, the city could provide adequate programming, healthy activity alternatives via teen mentorship opportunities, and safely monitored spaces.

Youth activists are speaking out on social media about the sustainability of revoking teen downtown activity, instead of providing fun, contained alternatives in the park area like block parties, anti-violence programs, and movies in the park. As Arionne Nettles points out, teens will continue to need need recreational spaces and intentional guidance on not engaging in violent acts, so strong support systems must be in place.

The Chicago Teacher’s Union also issued a statement, saying, “Why does a Black mayor of a city with a large population of Black residents insist on deepening Black pain and trauma? The mayor needs to be doing more to address violence in schools, mental health needs and entrenched disinvestment, instead of knee jerk curfews and bans on the use of public spaces.”

Curfew banning still remains largely ineffective and unproductive, yet Mayor Lightfoot remains convinced that doing the same thing over and over again since 1992 will yield new results, at the expense of Black and brown teen community involvement. Teens simply need better alternatives to carrying guns and more viable solutions than what Lightfoot is offering.

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