Bedtime, Children

August 04, 1994|By KEVIN SMOKLER

In enacting a nighttime curfew for children under 17, Mayor Schmoke and the Baltimore City Council have taken sides in the age-old battle of parent and child. Forgetting their own childhoods, these grown-ups have removed this conflict from the home and made it the business of government.

As a young person, just a few years too old to qualify for the mayor's bedtime, I respond in the tradition of William Shakespeare. Often before a performance, the Bard would have an actor deliver an ''apology,'' a sarcastic monologue asking forgiveness of those groups about to be offended by the play. I will now deliver the apology for the mayor and City Council to those maligned by the curfew.

We apologize to the parents of Baltimore. Without a legally mandated bedtime, you parents will be unable to discipline your children. How then is the child to avoid naughtiness? City government very properly helps you with the business of keeping your children from running amok and getting into mischief.

One could argue that the measure is both condescending and insulting. What knavery! City government must correct your misplaced priorities. You clothe and feed your children and supply their genetic makeup, but where is it written that you hold authority in the home? Such a notion perished with the death of Charlemagne. We would kindly ask you to relinquish these archaic customs and leave the job of parenting to those with an impartial viewpoint -- the mayor and City Council.

Some have objected that a curfew will prevent children from running late-night errands or bar them from using public facilities such as parks. What's the harm in that? Running for a quart of milk may lead to running for a quart of bourbon and then a quart of LSD. Chatting in parks could lead to conversation, flirting and solicitation. Why not cut out the middle steps and round up the children in squad cars as soon as they step out the front door? If children do not commit crimes, then they become victims of crimes. An elementary solution for a simple issue.

We apologize to those who see this measure as discriminatory: In many city districts, homeowners cannot afford air conditioning. These citizens depend on being outside at night to keep cool. They object to City Council members who can afford air conditioning telling them how to spend their nights. We suggest this entire issue be taken up with Baltimore Gas and Electric.

We apologize to those doubting this measure's effectiveness: A recent report by the National League of Cities shows ''little evidence'' that curfews deter juvenile crime. Fort Worth's chief of police, Thomas Windham, warns: ''We should not approach this with the enthusiasm that it's a solution, because it's not.'' A Chelsea, Mass., police officer, Tim Broman, says: ''We could make curfew arrests all night long. But what would be the point of that?''

Since when do law-enforcement professionals consider themselves ''authorities'' on this issue? Mayor Schmoke, a longtime resident of Ashburton, has had ample opportunity to study the effects of juvenile crime in Baltimore. Since this measure has been passed, the city obviously has a place for it in its budget and can afford to keep a police eye on its children each night.

You ask if the Baltimore Police Department has better things to do than play hall monitor to errant teen-agers? A resounding no! Errant teen-agers are future criminals in Reebok pumps.

We would ask Baltimore taxpayers to lower their expectations. You have garbage pick-up, schools, a harbor with Santa at Christmas. Asking for a police department with sensible priorities is like asking Pratt Street to be paved in gold.

Finally, we apologize to the young people of Baltimore. You call yourselves the real victims of this curfew, and we shed a tear on your behalf. But consider: The city acts efficiently in dealing out group punishments for the crime of being young and visible after hours. All children are reprimanded before they have a chance to get into mischief, saving Baltimore police time and trouble. We repeat: all children. So much for those who prate of discrimination.

Wisdom requires the young to wait until age 17 to acquire the rights laid down in the United States Constitution. Left unchecked, civil liberties become a nuisance, like traffic jams or ticket scalpers. We apologize to the Bill of Rights.

Kevin Smokler is an intern at The Baltimore Sun.

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