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Vote Settles Detroit Curfew Debate for This Year but Concerns Linger

June 17, 2015

The Detroit City Council decided that youth in metro Detroit do have constitutional rights worth respecting after all—at least to some degree.

After hearing nearly three hours of testimony from community members, the City Council last night voted 4-3 to reject a proposal for a draconian four-day curfew ordinance that would have infringed on the constitutional rights of minors and their parents at the same time that the city will be honoring American freedom and independence.

Under the rejected ordinance, minors not accompanied by a responsible adult and lacking detailed written permission would’ve been required to be off the streets between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. from June 19 to June 22. The Detroit River Days festivities run from June 19 to June 21, while the city’s popular Detroit Fireworks Display takes place on June 22.

Instead, councilmembers agreed to a one-day curfew, lasting from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and limited to the downtown Detroit area.

But even though the ordinance the council agreed to is far less extreme that what was originally suggested, we still don’t think the council went far enough. No matter how it’s portrayed, even the less restrictive fireworks curfew amounts to a trampling of minors’ constitutional freedoms.

Yes, in tossing out the more drastic ordinance, the council made a declaration reflective of our own sentiments here at the ACLU of Michigan: Not only should young people not be criminalized for merely being minors--they should also be allowed to actually exercise the very same rights everyone wants to flock to the riverfront to celebrate in the first place.

Randomly restricting young people’s movements is a violation of their First Amendment rights to free association and to interstate travel. And it’s an infringement on their parents’ due process right to disallow them from dictating where their children go and with whom.

And yet it’s precisely because we believe in the principles of free association and due process that we still find fault with the notion of any kind of curfew on fireworks night. Telling kids to be off the streets by 8 p.m. simply because they’re kids is wrong, as is threatening to cuff them like common criminals for no other reason than their birthdates.

We applaud the efforts that many in the community made to push back on the outlandish ordinance that was first proposed to council. But as the embrace of even the milder measure proves, there is still much work to be done to safeguard the full scope of young Detroiters’ constitutional rights.

After all, what good does it do to celebrate freedoms that we can't actually exercise?

By ACLU of Michigan Staff