A call for a youth curfew from an unlikely source


November 19, 1995|By Kevin Thomas

FOR THOSE WHO indiscriminately pigeonhole other people -- something I confess to doing occasionally myself -- the idea of imposing youth curfews in Howard County would have to come from some right-wing conservative bent on restoring society's "proper values."

So much for my abilities to discern these things.

Actually, the idea -- which could come to a vote in Annapolis next session -- comes from none other than Del. Frank S. Turner, an African-American Democrat and freshman General Assembly member.

Mr. Turner is no conservative, but he is no liberal either.

He considers himself a "middle-of-the-road" moderate; liberal on social issues but conservative when it comes to public finances. His father was active as a Republican in North Carolina politics.

So how come he's picked a social issue like youth curfews to show his more conservative side? The answer lies in the man himself and has nothing to do with any inconsistencies.

Law and family

At 48, and with two children of his own -- one of whom is a 15-year-old boy -- Mr. Turner is a man of both practicality and experience.

He divides his time between the General Assembly and his job as a professor of business law and legal environment at Morgan State University. The job grounds him in law books, but his family life grounds him in reality.

"Everybody wants to have safer streets and to know where their kids are," he says. His bill would give parents the tools to insist that their children under 17 be in the house after 11 p.m. or weekdays and midnight on weeknights.

It might also reduce the incidence of youth crime in the county, which has been growing.

Mr. Turner ran on a law-and-order platform in 1994. As far as he is concerned, he is simply delivering the goods.

Not everyone agrees, including one of Frank Turner's most staunch allies.

Democratic Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a close friend to Mr. Turner's professionally and politically, has nonetheless come out opposed to youth curfews.

His, you might say, is the more traditional liberal approach. A better alternative to curfews, he says, is to have more recreational facilities where youths can go.

I think they are both right.

Carrot and stick

Certainly, if we want youths off the streets at certain hours, they should have someplace to go. Going home is not going to sit as an attractive option for many, but a youth center that provides a variety of supervised activities might be.

But while a youth center would be a nice carrot, a youth curfew is an even nicer stick, and one that Howard County -- or practically any community in the nation -- could welcome.

I know the American Civil Liberties Union doesn't like this one, something about robbing kids of their rights and imposing a police state.

But raising kids is not a job defined by a set of legal ideals. It's hard work and things don't always go as planned. It would be nice, frankly, if government would sometimes back up what parents are working for, as in the case of curfews.

'Johnny can stay out'

How many parents of teen-agers have heard the argument, "Johnny's parents let him stay out till two in the morning"?

Not if there's a curfew.

What a curfew does is impose one of the best attributes of great child rearing: Consistency.

The other thing it does is send a wake-up call to bad parents, and let's face it, there are plenty out there. Under Mr. Turner's bill, a violation of the curfew means fining the parent, not the child.

Now, I would have to agree that there are some children who are so incorrigible that no amount of fining their parents is going to change their behavior. But I bet there are more children who would rather do the right thing after a few tickets are issued.

Youth crime up

Many of the critics of curfews (including this newspaper's editorial board) argue that they are unnecessary in Howard County. But before we get lulled into believing that the county is at all times a bucolic paradise, keep in mind that while crime generally is down in the county, youth crime continues to go up.

It is not just the safety of the general public that is at stake, it is also the safety of young people themselves when they choose to hang out on street corners or in front of convenience stores late at night.

From one parent to another, thank you, Frank Turner, for offering a little assistance.

Kevin Thomas is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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