Following the City Hall protest of the Baltimore chapter of “Fight Imperialism, Stand Together” against a new repressive youth curfew law, the city government has been on the defensive. FIST has led the struggle against the curfew, uniting several community groups and generating significant media attention on the issue.
The new law will increase the amount of hours that young people are forced to be inside. Previously, people under 18 years of age had to be indoors by midnight. Now it is 11 p.m., with those under the age of 14 forced to be indoors by 9 p.m. This, combined with a daytime curfew of 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., will permit young people only a few scarce hours to be in public spaces.
When children are found in violation of the curfew, they will be taken to one of nine detention centers being set up in the city, and parents will be fined up to $500 in order to retrieve their child. This is money that the predominantly working-class people of Baltimore do not have.
In the face of mounting opposition to the curfew law, the mayor, along with the police commissioner and several government officials, decided to hold two “community forums” about the newly enacted law. FIST seized the opportunity and called for a demonstration outside of the second forum on July 29.
On the sidewalk outside before the forum began, FIST members and community activists spoke out against the curfew while wearing handcuffs, zip ties and T-shirts imprinted with different things a young person could be doing when out after curfew. These included “Went to get medicine for mom,” “Home has no air conditioning” and even “I have no home.” This sent a powerful message to those passing by about the reality of what it means for the curfew to be enforced on young people.
The forums themselves, held at two local universities, were advertised as a way for the Baltimore community to be involved with the law and have their thoughts and concerns heard. But from the way that they were conducted, this could not have been further from the truth.
From the very beginning, each forum was a public relations stunt for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and her government. The city officials were given the majority of the time to speak, saying only positive things about the new law and promising that the police would behave in enforcing it. When the audience’s questions were finally heard, the vast majority of voices allowed to speak were those members of various city government offices in support of the curfew. These were not the voices of the masses of Baltimore.
The few community people who were allowed the opportunity to speak who were not in full support of the curfew were cut off early and had their concerns coldly dismissed. Any criticism at all of the necessity of a curfew on the youth of Baltimore was scoffed at with accusations of irresponsible parenting. When the issue of police violence against noncompliant youth was raised, the mayor and police commissioner both asserted that being taken to the detention centers was mandatory, thus leaving open the ability for police to use violence against young people.
Tensions ran high as the forum came to an end without the concerns of average, working-class residents being heard. As the mayor was given the stage for closing remarks, sections of the crowd erupted into chaos and shouting. People were heard yelling things such as “You’ve spoken enough!” “We’re not finished!” and simply “No youth curfew!”
One angry person demanding answers approached the stage, where the city officials were seated. At this point the mayor and her ample bodyguards rushed out of the hall, clearly terrified of the anger that they themselves had provoked in the people in the room.
The events of that night show quite clearly that although the mayor would have us believe that the curfew is for the common good, the community is not buying it. This law is a thinly veiled version of the infamous “stop and frisk” policy, this time targeted towards the young people of Baltimore in particular. The law has also been compared to various “show your papers” laws, due to the requirement that youth have identification in order to prove their age and innocence.
The people of Baltimore, two-thirds of whom belong to working-class Black families, know what this law will bring to their communities: more police violence. This law will give police nearly unlimited authority to cause confrontations with any young person and will undoubtedly lead to violence and possibly even the death of young people.
Baltimore FIST stands with the parents and young people of Baltimore against this unjust law and will continue to fight back, demanding jobs and recreation centers, not curfews and detention centers!