Tougher curfew proposed Council legislation would keep children indoors after dark

November 15, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this article.

The fatal shooting of a 10-year-old boy has prompted a move in the Baltimore City Council to enact a stricter curfew aimed at keeping children safe from violence in the streets from dusk to dawn.

Under far-reaching legislation to be introduced at this evening's council meeting, children ages 12 and younger would be required to stay indoors after dark.

The murder victim, Tauris Johnson, was caught in the cross fire of a drive-by shooting the evening of Nov. 4 as he tossed a football to his best friend on East Oliver Street.

His slaying prompted the council's African-American Coalition last week to call for swift measures to protect the rest of Baltimore's youth -- including extending the current curfew law and staging a public takeover of street corners known for drug trafficking the day after Thanksgiving.

More than a decade ago, the city created a curfew to ensure that children complete their homework and get enough rest for school. It is intended to keep unsupervised minors under age 16 off the streets after 11 p.m. on school nights and midnight on weekends. But the ordinance is rarely enforced by the city's crime-engulfed police force.

The tougher version being proposed by the council is part of a nationwide trend from Atlanta to Newark, N.J., to keep children from harm and restore order to the streets.

"We have to protect the younger children from the violence of the streets until we change the streets," said Council President Mary Pat Clarke. "It's a shame, but it has to be done."

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a 4th District Democrat, and Councilman Martin O'Malley, a 3rd District Democrat, are sponsoring the measure with her. In addition to a dusk curfew for younger children, it would impose a curfew of 10 p.m. on school days for youths ages 13 through 17.

Parents or guardians of children caught after curfew would face a $50 fine. On subsequent offenses, the parents could be fined up to $300 and face jail terms or community service of up to 60 days.

A separate ordinance is being introduced by Councilman

Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat, that sets up a different fine schedule. That bill establishes a fine of $50 on the second offense.

While some parents and community activists said they'd welcome a more stringent curfew, others were skeptical about its enforcement.

"You got these young kids out there selling drugs day and night," said Herbert Ravenscroft, who has lived for 35 years on Madeira Street in Southeast Baltimore. "If they can keep them off the street that would be fine. But I don't think they could really do it. They don't have enough police officers to do it."

The future of the proposal is unclear because many curfews have been rejected in court as unconstitutional, said Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Maryland.

"There's a lot of bad stuff going on out there," he said. "But just to say there's a general emergency in society is not enough."

In 1992, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals struck down a curfew in Frederick that required minors under 18 to be home by 11:59 p.m. Saturdays and 11 p.m. other nights. The state's second highest court ruled the law violated the constitutional rights of minors.

Mr. O'Malley said he recognizes the current draft of the ordinance could be too broad, but expects to work out the legal issues in public hearings.

"What we have to show is there's a rational relationship between kids being out on the street and kids being hit by stray bullets," he said.

Police officials and even some of the curfew supporters acknowledged that it would be difficult for the city's 2,900 police officers to enforce.

"There are an awful lot of kids out there, and it would create a lot of work for the officer," said Sam Ringgold, Police Department spokesman. "What would that mean to response time and the response to violent crime?"

He also questioned the image created for young children. "What kind of message is it we're sending to a kid who has to be inside from dusk to dawn? Are we saying we can't go on the streets at all anymore?"

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