UPDATED: City's curfew criminalizes young people of color - it's time to end it for good

By AMISOM Public Information (Flickr)

UPDATED Sept 29, 2017: Austin City Council voted on Thursday night to end the juvenile curfew. Congrats to Texas Appleseed and all of the community members and organizations that fought for this important local victory. 

We’ve been advocating to end the juvenile curfew, which is racist policy punishing our city’s youth since its inception in May 1990. Texas state law requires cities to review their juvenile curfew policy every three years. The City Council is considering ending this policy at their September 28 meeting, and we think it is time to get rid of the juvenile curfew for good.

The juvenile curfew allows police to charge youth in Austin who are in public between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. with a Class C misdemeanor. If given a citation, youth must appear in municipal court, face a steep $500 in fines in addition to court costs, and incur a criminal record if convicted. The juvenile curfew criminalizes youth and there is vast over-representation of youth of color as the most punished by this policy. Rather than intervening to ensure young people’s safety, the curfew is another example of policing and jailing people of color.

According to APD data from 2016, 17 percent of curfew tickets were handed out to Black youth, who represent only 8 percent of the city population between the ages of 10 and 17. Texas Appleseed found that between 2014 and 2016, Austin police issued most citations in North and South Austin while almost none were issued in West Austin.

In June, the Austin City Council voted to change its curfew policy to give youth citations after “three strikes,” and created a working group to look at the policy’s impact and alternatives. The working group includes local youth, criminal justice advocates, policy experts, and public officials.

Lewis Conway, criminal justice organizer with Grassroots Leadership, explained why the group urges City Council to end the curfew:

“This is the proverbial fork in the road for those of us that support ending the ordinance and those who wish to preserve it. After sitting in the stakeholder meetings, it became painfully clear how ‘nose blind’ APD is to their overtly racist targeting and hyper-policing of our youth. APD data clearly indicates when given a choice, Austin law enforcement are citing black and brown kids in areas like Dove Springs and West Rundberg, while allowing youth in more wealthier areas of the city off with warnings.

As someone directly and negatively impacted by the local criminal justice system, I support Chief Manley’s decision to strike down the ordinance. Austin Police Department data also indicates that since its inception, the ordinance has had minimal outcomes in regards to youth crime or youth violence, which should motivate the city council to do the right thing. We are behind the curve in finding ways to support the parents of our youth, in ways we have found to support APD for over 20 years. Now is the time for city leaders in impacted areas, to make a concerted effort to curb any interaction of our youth with law enforcement and seek ways to preserve the quality of their future, by voting to end this outdated ordinance.”

On Tuesday, September 5, the Public Safety Commission unanimously recommended to end curfew. Their resolution stated that Austin City Council should end the curfew "because of its disproportionate and negative impact on youth of color." Further, it resolved to involve young people in the working group formed "to propose non-criminal options to keep children and youth safe,” as it works to shift the city's approach from "a punitive approach to a supportive approach."

Grassroots Leadership and partners have participated in community forums to advocate for the end of the curfew. Community conversations have pushed APD interim police chief Brian Manley to change his mind from his original position in favor of the curfew to advocate for its conditional suspension. According to the Austin Monitor, he plans to prepare a simar proposal to City Council following the Public Safety Commission, though he plans to revisit the policy after one year.

Austin City Council should end this policy and work to support young people, rather than criminalizing them. We advocate for the City of Austin to increase engagement opportunities for youth, including free late-night spaces and Know Your Rights trainings in schools, that promote their well-being and safety. Rather than policing to punish youth, our law enforcement and city agencies need youth-focused training that upholds their rights and supports their needs, especially for victims of crime. Further, we urge the working group to continue its policy analysis and recommendations for youth services. We support youth leadership in shaping city governance.