You can’t just slap a Band-Aid on a problem and walk away from it – but I’m afraid that’s exactly what happened when the City of Bridgeport decided to start re-enforcing a youth curfew to reduce crime.

Tatiyana Whitley

In response to two shootings that took place at the end of January, one of which resulted in the death of an 18-year old, the City Council asked the Police Department to begin enforcing a controversial curfew law passed in 2012, with the aim of reducing crime and violence.

As a young woman from Bridgeport, everything that happens in my city affects me. It also affects the work I do. As a Justice Advisor for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, I see first-hand how punitive measures, such as a curfew, negatively impact youth and disproportionately impact youth of color. While I understand the desire to take action to prevent further violence, I have to wonder, did the City Council even try to come up with a solution that would actually work?

There are examples from all across the country that show us curfews don’t work.  Implementing a curfew may feel like a common-sense solution, but a review of studies released in 2016 on the effects of juvenile curfews concluded one simple thing: Curfews. Don’t. Decrease. Crime.

The study also revealed, curfews do not decrease a young person’s chance of falling victim to a crime, and in some cases, it was discovered that implementing a curfew may actually increase crime. So why are our policymakers turning to a “solution” that will not work when we now know better? What message will this send to our youth?

The city can say time and again that this isn’t about punishing kids, but let’s consider the effect enforcing this curfew will have on the already difficult relationship between police and youth of color in the city. When the crime is being the wrong age, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, I fear it will only create more distrust.

If the events that triggered the latest enforcement of the curfew happened in Greenwich, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume the kids there would get access to counselors and therapists.  But the youth of Bridgeport? They get a curfew.

A number of years ago, it was discovered that young people in certain urban areas were experiencing higher rates of PTSD than combat veterans because of frequent exposure to trauma and violence. If the events that triggered the latest enforcement of the curfew happened in Greenwich, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume the kids there would get access to counselors and therapists.  But the youth of Bridgeport? They get a curfew. If we can continually find money for policing, but not for addressing the trauma our youth are facing, we need to re-examine our priorities.

So, what should our city be doing to reduce crime and violence, instead of turning to the same ineffectual measures? How can we address the impacts of systemic racism, poverty, and trauma to improve the lives of our youth and our community? The answer is simple but hard.

Instead of a knee-jerk reaction, the city of Bridgeport needs to sit down and investigate the root causes of crime and violence with affected community members. So often these solutions come down to investment — in our youth, our communities and each other. I want the youth of Bridgeport to have an equal opportunity to live safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

Any meaningful solution must address the root causes of these issues and should be based in data-driven examples that work. A curfew is not an investment in community. A curfew is a punishment  — and one that will not work.

I was in high school when this curfew law was first passed in 2012. I don’t remember it having any positive effect the first time it was enacted, but I do remember how it made me feel. I remember that feeling because it’s so similar to how I feel now.  Every chance they get, they choose to punish us instead of prioritizing us.

The city of Bridgeport and all its residents need to come together to implement solutions to the root issues that lead to violence, because the curfew isn’t a solution. It’s a Band-Aid, and we need surgery.

Tatiyana Whitley is a Justice Advisor for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance / Bridgeport.

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