A group of Florida high school students is waging war against a local curfew.
The law — which bars under-18s from downtown West Palm Beach after 10 o’clock on weeknights and eleven on weekends — is, they say, unconscionable age discrimination. But that’s not all.
The law exempts married young people, but not those who are out with parental permission. On the contrary, it imposes fines on parents who “knowingly permit or by insufficient control allow” their children to break the curfew. “Insufficient control” is apparently nowhere defined — is a parent whose 17-year-old is in college expected to exercise “sufficient control” to keep him or her indoors at night?
The most bizarre — and, in a bizarre way, comforting — provision of the two-year-old law is one which exempts young people who are “attending or traveling directly to or from an activity that involves the exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution” from the curfew.
That’s right. The curfew as written only applies to those young people who don’t intend to speak while they’re out on the town. If you’re going to be exercising your freedom of speech (or assembly, or religion, or the press, or, you know, petitioning the government for redress of grievances), you’re golden. If you’re heading out to sit by your grandmother who’s in a coma, though, you’re getting a ticket.
(Only not really. The city is mostly just using the law as a mechanism for rousting young people rather than going through the hassle of ticketing them — as of the end of March it had issued a thousand warnings but only five citations.)
It’s ridiculous, is what it is, and the National Youth Rights Association of Southeast Florida is doing something about it.
NYRASEFL leaders Zach Goodman and Jeffrey Nadel (both 16) spent a big chunk of the spring explaining to the mayor and city commission just how farkakte the law is, but didn’t get anywhere. Then in late March they retained local civil rights attorney Barry Silver, who managed to get a law that criminalized feeding the homeless (yes, really) overturned last year. But so far he hasn’t had any luck either.
So on the evening of May 1, they took to the streets, letting the city know when and where they would defy the curfew.
During the protest they were tailed by two officers on Segways, but otherwise left alone. Their presence does seem to have gotten under the cops’ skin, though, as police ticketed several teens who were waiting for their parents outside a nearby movie theater as the protest was going on.
NYRASEFL intends to make one final effort to convince the city commission to repeal the curfew law before filing suit against the city. We’ll keep you informed as the story develops.
Update: As Justin Graham notes in comments, NYRASEFL is on Twitter, too.