Curfew Crackdown: Criminalization Doesn’t Keep Young People Safe

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By Nox Tan, Philadelphia High School Student

As of June, several restrictions and curfews have been placed on young people in Philadelphia. This includes banning people between the ages 14-18 from public businesses without the accompaniment of an adult after 10pm and, even more extremely, banning kids from the Fashion District after 2pm, before school lets out. Curfews, which are a growing phenomenon in cities, have been posed as a way to curb violence and property damage to businesses – at the cost of drastically diminishing the places youth are allowed to be in public at a time when being a young person is more difficult than ever.

These curfews blame youth for our reaction to the growing social crises that we are facing under capitalism. While rates of suicide, crime, and gun violence amongst youth have been increasing over the past years, the crisis we are facing as young people under the capitalist system is hardly new and increased discipline and criminalization isn’t the answer.

Our education system acts as a tool for capitalism rather than as a tool for learning. Because our schools are structured to create more obedient workers, students are alienated from our education and school experience while our futures still rest upon it. Public education is not allotted the proper funding for basic environmental safety, educational standards, or mental health support, leaving many students untethered. 

Outside of school, we can clearly see the deteriorating conditions of the world into which we were born. In the US, students are surrounded by gun violence every day – at the time of writing, in 2023 there have been 23 school shootings resulting in injury or death. Many students also face violence outside of school. In the aftermath of the pandemic, mental health issues among youth have skyrocketed. After this time of social isolation, 80% of schools have reported increased behavioral issues among their students and many cities have seen an increase in gun violence. Needless to say, the crises of the capitalist system are especially difficult on young people, who don’t yet have all the mental and emotional tools to deal with them.

Who Are Curfews For?

The roots of these spikes in violence are directly tied to the decay in the capitalist system. Young people’s lives are so unstable and their future is hard to imagine considering all the debt they will likely take on, not to mention the threat of climate change. The ruling class cannot address these roots without threatening their own profits or the capitalist system. Rather than give kids more freedom and resources with which to fight the mental health crisis we are facing, they instead demonize young people, imposing strict regulations on when and where young people can be. This restriction also impacts working parents who may not be able to stay home with their kids. 

A graphic outlining youth curfew policies found on the Vernon Hills, IL police department website.

Several other cities have imposed these curfews including Chicago, where the new regulations, put in place by Lori Lightfoot, primarily impact Black and brown working-class neighborhoods. Now, youth are not allowed to be in the famous Millennium Park after 6pm, Thursday through Sunday. The next mayor of Philadelphia, Charelle Parker, has not only given her staunch support of stop-and-frisk policing but has also said that she would make school year-round to limit violence. While violence does spike during the summer when school is out, this fails to recognize that our underfunded schools both aid in the rise of violence and do not have the resources to run all year. This policy is highly unlikely to be implemented, but it still shows the inadequacy of the solutions put forward by the ruling class. The ruling class is responding to the rise in violence caused in part by the extreme social isolation of teenagers by increasing policing of where teenagers can be – resulting in more isolation.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

These supposed solutions are not for the protection or well-being of teenagers, but rather to protect the profits of the capitalist class at the expense of youth. The curfews limit where teenagers are allowed to spend time without providing other spaces. It’s true that gun violence tends to increase in the summer, partially because schools aren’t in session. However, teenagers are not provided with affordable summer camps or programs where they can spend time, which is especially difficult if their parents work full-time. At the same time that these restrictions are being put into place, many cities are shutting down recreational facilities and limiting library hours, further limiting the spaces in which teenagers can be. The curfews set up in many cities are in place solely to protect the profits of large companies, not to protect teenagers from violence. At heart, this is a concern about the viability of downtown businesses – they want to be insulated from potential vandalism and theft, and the “rowdiness” that crowds of teenagers sometimes bring. But this greatly limits the times and places in which teens can interact with their peers or simply just exist.

The ruling class chooses to demonize young people because they have no real solutions for the violence inherent to the capitalist system. However, this social alienation of youth does not need to exist. The policing of youth is a response to problems caused by a lack of opportunities and resources provided to young people. Rather than sending money into policing and controlling youth, funding should be put towards providing teens with affordable afterschool and summer programs to attend and well-funded libraries and parks, paid for by taxing the rich. Additionally, cities should provide better funding to schools and recreation centers so that children are given more opportunities and resources. Our cities are spending money to police children under the guise of combating violence and poor behavior when this money could go to resources that would prevent, not punish, violence.

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