The preponderance of evidence shows that curfews are not that effective in reducing crime citywide. However, my friends in places like New York and Miami have told me curfews can be effective in driving violent crime out of entertainment districts and areas frequented by tourists. Now is this what we ultimately want?
All one has to do is a simple Google search to find that curfews have proven unsuccessful in reducing crime. Findings generally state that while popular “empirical studies indicate that curfews are not effective at reducing juvenile offending or victimization.” Also, the peak hours for juvenile crime is between the hours of 3 and 6 pm when children get out of school and around 9 pm on non-school days. The approved, extended curfew with an 8 pm start is more aligned to French Quarter needs but does not address “mundane” crime among adolescents.
Theoretically speaking, if we keep every juvenile at home, supervised by a good parent, then violent crimes would be reduced dramatically. But this is New Orleans. The ordinance falls short of addressing why juveniles can physically commit heinous crimes. A curfew in the Quarter doesn’t provide an incentive to keep juveniles at home or for adults to become stay-at-home effective parents. Access to guns, drugs and discretionary time are also not impacted by the ordinance. Parents are often flipping beds in the Quarter while their children are being raised by one of the thousands of formerly incarcerated males. In addition, a child who can kill will respect a curfew law as much as jaywalking.
Certainly, those with criminal records are careful not to make their criminal activity visible in areas in which there’s a higher likelihood of contact with authorities. Consequently, I do think the original extension of the curfew in the Quarter and the attention it will receive can move violent crime to other areas of the city.
In that regard, I understand why Councilperson Kristen Gisleson Palmer, the sponsor of the first ordinance, introduced it. Palmer’s district includes the French Quarter, and the residents and businesses want crime out of their jurisdiction. I am confused that other council members voted unanimously, for if the curfew proves successful, it will more than likely yield small increases of violent crime in other areas. Council Members have to know that the curfew in the Quarter will receive lopsided attention and it’s generally easier to manage than a citywide ordinance. The citywide curfew idea was clearly a reaction to the black community whose children will bear the brunt of the mandate.
I also understand why elected officials pile on the support of these curfews. The recent killings of tourists in the French Quarter disrupts the good news associated with the BCS Championship Game, Sugar Bowl and increases in conferencing in the City. Reverberations of French Quarter killings in the national news have different economic consequences than a murder in Gentilly. However, if individual council members think a Bourbon Street-styled curfew solution is applicable to all of their needs, then those council members are missing the mark in providing a nuanced way to address their specific communities needs.
On a personal, tertiary note, I look sideways at the notion that we are making other people’s mischief safe at the expense of permanent residents’ civil liberties. Moreover, it feels like we’re saying, ‘that human trafficking, under-aged drinking, as well as the exploitation of undocumented and low-skilled labor is okay as long as there’s no murder.’ Also, law-bidding children of color from good families will undoubtedly be the collateral damage. I have a 19 year-old college student who would go to a football championship game in the Quarter if Sarah Lawrence College developed farm-league team like those in the SEC. But I digress.
Curfews can never replace the hard work associated with active parenting, keeping children in school, good teaching, effective truancy programs, having viable recreational activities, and safe high school sport venues. Curfews are such a minor part in a much bigger solution that residents aren’t seeing.
What is most unsettling about the unanimous vote of the ordinance is implicit prioritizing of who matters in the Council’s efforts to fight murder. Tourism and its importance to the city’s vitality can’t be discounted. However, the overall economy is much more dependent upon the safety and stability of New Orleans’ durable residents. I shouldn’t have to go to the Quarter to feel safe. We can stop murder in the French Quarter, but reductions in murder should emanate from making New Orleanians safe.