Four Baltimore City College high school students sit on a brick wall outside the school talking about the city’s new curfew, debating why it is disproportionately enforced. Preliminary data from the city shows that African-Americans are stopped more than whites: During the first two months of the curfew, 126 black teens were stopped for curfew violations compared to 19 white teens. Of the total 147 people stopped, 76 percent were male.
Anastasia Jeffries, a 16-year-old junior, says that “police officers see girls less as a threat because there is that idea that girls are weak.” Girls are more likely to follow the rules, she says, so police think they aren’t “going to cause as much trouble.”
“It doesn’t make any sense that they are saying kids can’t be out at certain times,” says Jeffries. “Some [teens] have jobs and take the bus.”
“I have watched a cop sit in front of a bus stop and wait for something to happen for him to get out of the car,” says Ranye McLendon, a 17-year-old City senior, explaining that she has typically seen police targeting young African-American males. The police were waiting for the young man to make an error, she says.
Jeffries blames it on stereotypes of young black men. “They fit the police’s definition of what an assailant looks like.”
The students also agreed that the curfew sweeps were not put in place to monitor young women, but geared toward young men.
Student Kevin Scott was fed up with the police and hopeless about reform efforts. “The police are the police,” he says.
All four students agree the curfew is a bad idea. Parents, on the other hand, are divided.
Dexter Nixon, father of a 13-year-old son, thinks the curfew is a good idea. “There are a lot of kids, teenagers especially, who don’t need to be out on the street at a certain time of night. I don’t see a good reason that people are giving to justify why their 14- to 16-year-old is on the street past 9 o’ clock.”
“The assumption is more males are committing crimes than females,” he says, though he thinks this probably depends on the individual officer.
”I bet they target certain neighborhoods more than others too,” says Gail Ruhkamp, mother of a 16-year-old daughter. She blames stereotypes for the fact that more blacks than whites and more boys than girls are being picked up.
That makes parents of boys fearful.
“I’m more afraid for my son,” says Nixon. “I see a pattern of police behavior that looks like they target young black men. My son, who I don’t think would commit a crime even if he could get away with it, could be mistaken for a criminal simply because his age or the color of his skin. I would hate to think what could happen to him if a police officer decides to choose him for who they pick on tonight.”
Jeffries and McLendon both agree that it was equally dangerous for girls and guys to be out late at night.
Jeffries says, “Some areas are more dangerous for guys because they are more at risk for getting robbed. With girls people might try to take advantage of them.”
“It depends on the cops and random people,” says McLendon. “With cops, girls are safer because they aren’t going to really bother you. Not as much as they should, in comparison to as much as they do with males.”
Daniel Coco, a senior at City, adds, “There is this stigma to men where they are more aggressive and are able to commit crimes more than women.”
McLendon says, ”I don’t see the purpose of the curfew because I have a curfew set by my parents.”