ACLU to Detroit: Fireworks Curfew Violates the Rights of Young People and their Parents

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
June 19, 2014 12:00 am

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DETROIT - The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter to Detroit officials today, urging them to refrain from enforcing a citywide 6 p.m. juvenile curfew enacted specifically for the annual Independence Day fireworks display on Monday on the Detroit River. The ACLU of Michigan asserts that the ordinance is too broad and that it unfairly and unconstitutionally criminalizes innocent activity of minors and their parents.

"It is ironic and unsettling that on the day set aside to celebrate the freedoms of our country, the City of Detroit effectively makes thousands of young people prisoners in their own homes," said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan. "While the city has a legitimate interest in addressing potential problems at the fireworks celebration on the river, it cannot do so by relying on hurtful stereotypes or by criminalizing the innocent activities of young people throughout the entire city."

On June 3, the Detroit City Council passed an "emergency ordinance" identical to ordinances passed in 2012 and 2013, imposing a 6 p.m. curfew for all people under 18 who are unaccompanied by their parents. The ordinance only applies to this Monday night, the night of the annual fireworks display on the Detroit River. Although the stated purpose of the curfew is to address problems on the riverfront, the curfew extends throughout the entire city.

The ordinance includes certain limited exceptions for minors going to and from work, a "recognized" educational institution, or an "organized, sponsored" recreational activity, but only if the minor is carrying appropriate papers. Juveniles cannot leave the house after the 6 p.m. curfew for any other purpose, even with parental consent or in the company of other responsible adults.

"The City is basically telling the young people of Detroit that they must be placed on lockdown to make people from outside Detroit feel safe when they go downtown to watch the fireworks," said Michael Reynolds, a 16-year-old Detroit resident and President of the organization Youth Power Movement. "We are not criminals. Yet, even if our parents give us permission, the curfew prevents us from visiting friends, attending youth group meetings, playing sports in the park and even going to church."

In 2012 and 2013, hundreds of young people engaged in innocent activity were rounded up on buses and issued criminal citations under identical fireworks curfew ordinances. Additionally, hundreds of parents were issued citations because their children violated the curfew.

In today’s letter, the ACLU of Michigan strongly urges Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Police Chief James Craig to refrain from enforcing the curfew on Monday night because the ordinance is unconstitutional.

The letter asserts that the broad curfew violates minors’ rights to equal protection, to travel, and to engage in acts protected by the First Amendment such as to associate with others, attend church and engage in political activity. The letter also asserts that the curfew violates the due process rights of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing of their children.

In addition to Steinberg, the letter was written by Joshua Zeman and Zainab Sabbagh, two Wayne State University law students in the ACLU/WSU Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Clinic.

Read the ACLU of Michigan's letter to Detroit

Read Detroit's 2014 fireworks curfew ordinance

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