Community Debates Proposed Montgomery County Teen Curfew Law
Stabbing incident in downtown Silver Spring pushed the conversation into the spotlight.
About 40 Silver Spring residents and officials gathered Wednesday night to voice concerns about the county's proposed teenage curfew legislation at a Safe Silver Spring committee meeting at the Long Branch Community Center.
Montgomery County Police Lt. Bob Carter opened the meeting with raw footage of a gang fight on the night of July 1, which resulted in the stabbing of a 17-year-old girl. In the video, a group of 50 to 70 young people are standing around Georgia Avenue near downtown Silver Spring and eventually flee from police cars.
“This is when we encounter problem people, after hours. We have tools in our toolbox to hopefully lessen the chance of a bigger problem later,” Carter said.
If the legislation passes, anyone younger than 18 would be banned from public places after 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends except when accompanied by parents, participating in school or religious functions or acting under the direction of a parent. Police would be required to issue a warning and to enforce the law only on those who are noncompliant. No one would be forced to show identification.
“We need a way to allow the police to send them home before fighting happens,” said Woody Brosnan, vice chairman of Safe Silver Spring.
Yet some of the teens in the room said the police already have all the tools they need.
“The toolbox is full,” said Abigail Burman, a former Richard Montgomery High School student and creator of the “Stand Up to the MoCo Youth Curfew” Facebook campaign. The campaign now has more than 5,000 followers. Burman said police can use existing laws against loitering and disorderly conduct without implementing legislation that would so broadly target young people.
Chester Lam, a 2011 Montgomery Blair High School graduate and member of the Facebook campaign, agreed.
“It’s too broad," Lam said. "It’s like throwing a knife to kill a fly."
Lieutenant Carter assured that the law would make it much easier to break up large groups before they could start trouble. The curfew would be implemented on a situational basis with the understanding that some teens are out late because of a movie or other activities.
“This is not to sweep up all the youth coming out of 'Harry Potter' at Regal Cinema at 12:01 a.m.," Carter said. "This is not a juvenile sweep problem.”
If the legislation passes, Carter said he would mandate that his officers be trained when situations are suspicious enough to implement the law.
Some parents like Judith Arbacher aren’t pleased with the proposed restrictions and the onus they would put on parents to accompany their minor children after certain hours.
“The Fillmore is coming soon," Arbacher said. "That means that our kids can’t go to concerts alone."
John Gallagher of the High School Democrats of Maryland proposed adding an entertainment clause to the legislation that would exempt those attending musical, sports and other events from being out after curfew.
Even with such exemptions, some at the meeting felt the law could be a slippery slope toward discrimination. Burman cited studies of curfews in other areas that resulted in minorities being disproportionally targeted.
“What I’m most concerned about is I’m not the one who is going to be affected by racial profiling," said Becca Arbacher, a 16-year-old Blair student. "I’m an affluent white girl, and I don’t see any Hispanic or black teens here to be able to speak."
Mike Stuben of the County Executive's Office said this is not a racial issue but an anti-gang one. He stressed it is a solution to a growing problem in the area and pointed to the curfews that Prince George’s County and the District have already implemented. Montgomery County officials believe that the curfews in the surrounding areas encourage teenagers to hang out in Montgomery County at night. Their hope is that this law will send kids home.
Next steps: The Montgomery County Council is encouraging residents to submit suggestions and other sentiments by emailing their county council member or testifying at the public hearing on July 26 at the Council Office Building. The council won’t make a decision on the proposed curfew legislation until the fall.
This story has been corrected. An earlier version of this story misspelled Abigail Burman's last name. We regret the error.