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NOLA City Council Unanimously Approves Curfew Expansion

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Ben Depp for WWNO
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New Orleans City Council voted unanimously Thursday to expand its curfew and truancy laws to include 17-year-olds.

The vote was taken up as part of the council’s consent agenda, held for “routine or non-controversial matters.” But the expansion, introduced by Councilmembers Jay Banks and Cyndi Nguyen, has sparked controversy.

Council members listened to several statements opposing the expansion. Commenters cited data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which reported that during the summer of 2019, when a youth curfew was reinstated, nearly 85 percent of all children stopped for curfew violations were Black.

A coalition called the Youth Justice Advocates, made up of several organizations including Step Up NOLA and the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, released a statement following the vote.

“By passing the curfew ordinance as part of the consent agenda, despite public opposition, the Council signaled that criminalizing children of color is a routine matter in New Orleans,” the statement read. “If Council members contest that, we hope to see them come forward with policies to actively invest in children and families of color, especially when budget season comes around.”

NOPD Superintendent Shawn Fergusson supported the curfew expansion. He and some council members have said that the curfew expansion is a way to bring the city laws in accordance with the state’s Raise the Age law that requires the criminal justice legal system to treat 17-year-olds as minors.

However, the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights said the Raise the Age law does not apply to status offenses like curfew and truancy; it applies to delinquency offences.

The organization’s policy director, Rachel Gassert, said in a statement that the legislation was not intended to increase the contact that 17-year-olds have with the police.

“The point of Raise the Age was to recognize that 17-year-olds are, in fact, children and need to be treated as such. Deploying cops on kids for breaking curfew is not an appropriate way to treat children, and we oppose it for youth of all ages,” Gassert said. “If City Council truly wants to abide by the spirit of Raise the Age, they can invest our resources in supporting kids instead of continuing to criminalize them.”

In the council meeting, Banks said he agreed that increased policing will not eliminate crime.

“The real solution to our crime problem is not going to come from policing. We will never arrest our way out of crime,” Banks said. “Things like early childhood education, things like increasing minimum wages, things like having youth programs to give our children opportunities is what’s going to make a difference. … This is just one more tool to try to address the problem that we’re in.”

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