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A Modest Proposal for an Oakland Curfew

The Oakland Police Activities League’s webpages glow with its efforts to “provide a common platform for positive interaction between Oakland’s youth and Police Officers, thereby fostering a mutual bond of respect, understanding, and trust.” Very laudable.

But then… as usual… Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan let slip his department’s real attitude in a sweeping tirade condemning the city’s “young people” as consumed with “all-out greed and disrespect for each other and each other's personal safety.” Police hostility toward the young is stunning. When a teenaged girl was shot to death by a 36-year-old man in a highly publicized killing, the OPD branded the victim an "at-risk 16 year-old" whose presence in public at night was to blame for her murder. Pundits like Tammerlin Drummond bought into this appalling victim-blaming that barely mentioned the guy with the gun.

Just-installed Interim Police Chief Sean Whent’s two-page message was refreshingly free of standard rhetoric blaming the city’s crime and violence on youth. We can always hope for new attitudes.

Instead, we got another curfew proposal from incoming council member Noel Gallo, along with more debunked homilies about “protecting children” and “reducing crime.” The latest proposal is draconian and foolish, banning all persons under age 18 from public, businesses, and vehicles during most nighttime and schoolday hours unless they’re accompanied by someone (anyone) 21 or older.

Never has a youth curfew been less appropriate for Oakland—or anywhere, given solid research showing that all youth curfews accomplish is to waste police time removing law-abiding teenagers from public, leaving emptier streets more inviting to crime.

The latest, 2012 crime statistics show youth crime in Oakland, including for murder and other serious crimes, has fallen to its lowest level ever reliably recorded. The 2012 figures (which are complete citywide and report increased crime by older ages) show youth offending in Oakland has dropped 86% over the last four decades, including an 83% drop since 1995.

Today, youths under 18 comprise just 8% of the city’s felony arrests, 5% of its drug offenses, and 4% of its misdemeanors—less than 7% of criminal arrests overall. The rate of teenaged youths getting arrested in Oakland is about the same as for adults in their 40s and 50s. Even these low arrest numbers overstate youth offending. A recent ACLU of Northern California collaborative report found 57% of youths arrests referred to probation in Oakland are not sustained.

Nonsensically, Gallo’s curfew would require that youths be accompanied by adults 21 and older, even though grownups in their 20s and 30s have crime rates double those of juvenile teens.

Youths may get the brunt of blame, but they’re picayune contributors to overall crime. If Oakland’s continuing violence demands that “something needs to be done!”— the five-word evidentiary bellow justifying curfews—then I have a modest proposal that tackles the real issue.

Why not curfew men? OPD figures show men commit 80% of the city’s violent crimes, 81% of property crimes, 83% of public drunkenness and drunken driving, 84% of felonies, and 87% of murders—and just about 100% of the customers and pimps of the “child prostitutes” on International Boulevard that bring sporadic cries for drastic action.

If—as its supporters insist, against all evidence—a curfew is effective in reducing crime, then it should be directed not at youths, but at the male demographic causing the vast majority of crime and violence. Not just young men; ALL men. Oakland police arrested 2,000 men ages 40 and older for criminal offenses in 2012—four times more than all youth combined.

Under a male curfew, any man—say, curfew advocates Gallo or Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson—caught in public, businesses, or vehicles after 10 pm would have to present police with documentation of legitimate purpose, such as lawful employment or an emergency, or face arrest.

Sure, there are constitutional issues. But if a curfew’s burden is minimal, as supporters demur, then responsible men shouldn’t mind complying with it in order to “do something!” to combat crime. After all, if Oakland effectively curfewed men, the 16 year-old girl murdered by the gun-brandishing 36 year-old would still be alive.

Banning men from public at night would free police resources to address the city’s other crime epidemic, domestic violence—3,800 calls in 2012—to which men also contribute in excess. Clearly, custody arrangements would have to be made for men who can’t be allowed either in public or at home.

How about it, Councilmember Gallo and columnist Johnson—do you mean what you say about “doing something!” truly effective, enough to sacrifice a few of your own rights? Or are you just indulging the same old easy outrage and phony youth-bashing panaceas that distract from the difficult discussions Oakland needs to have?

Keywords: curfew, Mike Males

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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