Arrested Development in RichmondPosted by Lauren Jones on March 25th, 2010
Richmond’s City Council has postponed its vote on whether to impose a daytime curfew for minors – a proposal put forth by the city’s Police Department.
The curfew, which will be decided at a later date, would allow police officers to arrest school-aged minors who are not in school between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2:30 pm. The curfew only targets youth in the City of Richmond, where 80 percent of the population is people of color.
The Police Department’s proposal states that such “truants” will be taken to a police-run attendance center, where the youth will be held until their parents can pick them up, or until school hours are over. The penalties for truant youth include citations and fines up to $500. Youth caught being truant more than three times in one year face further penalties, like a misdemeanor charge and government intervention in their home.
Police Chief Fred Deltorchio was quoted saying that making truancy part of the municipal code, rather than relying solely on state educational code, adds teeth to the law. But why do we want to figuratively chew up our children?
When youth rebel, the adult impulse is to suppress the rebellion. Repressive tactics might work temporarily, but it’s only a matter of time before the problem once again rears its ugly head. This proposal is a response to a serious situation, and yes, truant children should be in school. But criminalizing them is not the answer.
In this situation, an increased number of juvenile delinquents will only perpetuate Richmond’s reputation as a crime-ridden city. If the curfew passes, juveniles would be delinquent based on their inability or refusal to pay a court fine or by ditching school again, perhaps to make a stand about what they perceive as an unfair punishment. Such actions may seem defiant and silly, but when you’re a teenager, adolescent actions are your way of making sense of a world in which you have little say.
Unfortunately, under this curfew such action taken against a targeted crack down would not be viewed in the spirit of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience – as people making a stand against an unjust government – but rather as criminal behavior.
While it is commendable that the Richmond Police Department cares about youth missing school, and has even included a community-based organization in its proposed solution, a curfew would be more a challenge than a solution.
It’s as though the police are saying, “We dare you. Go ahead ditch, watch what we’ll do.”
That kind of challenge is fruitless. Kids are bored and uninspired in school and that’s often why they don’t care. They need to be challenged intellectually and be provided caring adults willing to ask what is going on in their lives that is leading them to act out. The school district and city council should address what programs have been cut that had incentivized kids to stay in school – arts, sports, music, creative expression – and how they can obtain programmatic funding rather than sequestering city funds for more policing.
Ultimately, children unafraid of school authorities are not likely to be intimidated by any authority. The solution to this problem should be how to make them care about school, not scare them into it.
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