Sunday, September 14, 2008

URBAN FASCISM GROWING

Time - For much of the latter part of summer, police officers in Helena, Ark., shouldered military-style M-16 rifles equipped with laser sights and patrolled the streets of this little community of 15,000. White signs on large blue barrels were placed in a 10-block area, warning that it was under 24-hour curfew. "Everybody is subject to being stopped and questioned," said Mayor James Valley. "Our officers will ride in unmarked vehicles, pull surprises on people and check everybody out to see who they are."

A crime spree prompted a similar lockdown in Hartford, Conn. After a chain of shootings that left one 21-year-old dead, a 15-month-old shot in the left leg and six young people wounded, the city in August imposed a 30-day emergency curfew on everyone under the age of 18. Mayor Eddie Perez said in a statement: "We must do this because we cannot and will not tolerate innocent people, especially children, to be victims."

A growing number of U.S. towns and cities are fighting escalating crime by imposing tough curfew ordinances. In Chicago, people under the age of 17 have to be off the streets by 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Mayor Richard Daley believes the ordinance will help prevent further gun crime, which has taken the lives of nearly 30 Chicago public school students this academic year alone. But while the curfews may be popular with voters, civil-rights advocates argue that they are violating constitutional rights.

Curfews "essentially place an entire demographic under house arrest for the inappropriate actions of a few," says David McGuire, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney in Connecticut. Restricting citizens to their home during certain hours of the day, he and others argue, violates the right to assemble, the right to travel freely and other basic due process rights protected by the 14th Amendment. . .

Curfew laws have been struck down by courts in New Jersey, Washington and California but upheld in Texas and the District of Columbia. They continue to be debated in several jurisdictions. Yet the constitutionality of youth curfew laws has yet to be tested in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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