Research shows curfews won’t work to curb crime among young people

An end to gun violence will take more effective gun regulation and long-term solutions that focus on jobs, education, mental health counseling and violence intervention.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a press conference about public safety, including curfews for young residents in downtown Chicago. Monday, May 16, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a press conference about public safety, including curfews for youth.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

There is something very wrong in our city when a 16-year-old, seeing the deadly toll of gun violence all around him, writes about his life plans and ends with “if I make it to 21.”

There is something even more wrong when that 16-year-old is gunned down in the city’s showcase downtown park, allegedly by another teen, a 17-year-old.

The weekend murder of Seandell Holliday in Millennium Park is one of a recent spate of downtown shootings. Gun violence in the affluent and tourist-driven part of the city is just the latest example of the violence that touches every corner of Chicago.

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Quick fixes, like Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s latest curfew restrictions for minors, won’t work to curb that violence among young people, research shows.

Change will only come with a multi-faceted approach: more effective gun regulation and long-term prevention that focuses on jobs, education, mental health counseling and violence intervention.

Minors and ‘responsible adults’

According to a study published in 2016 by The Campbell Collaboration, the effects of curfews are “likely to be small at best” and are “unlikely to be a meaningful solution to juvenile crime and disorder.”

The research also points out other studies that show curfews don’t work because minors mostly commit crimes in the hours before and after school, and short-staffed police departments don’t have time to focus on making sure children are inside at night.

For those reasons, Lightfoot’s latest restriction, banning minors from Millennium Park after 6 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday unless they are accompanied by “at least one responsible adult,” is likely to be ineffective and discriminatory.

How can officials determine who is a trustworthy adult vs. a teenager? There are a lot of baby-faced adults, some of whom are not the best role models. Then there are teenagers who look more mature, like the 14-year-old “kid cop” who successfully impersonated a Chicago police officer many times after his first arrest.

Meanwhile, 18- and 19-year-olds are legally adults, yet still teenagers themselves. Are they suddenly mature enough to monitor 16- and 17-year-olds?

Rolling back the citywide weekend curfew for minors from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. might also end up being fruitless, or could make things worse: When the curfew for minors was pushed back from midnight to 11 p.m. in Washington, D.C., gun violence increased, according to a 2015 study by economists Jillian Carr and Jennifer Doleac.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Curfew laws elsewhere disproportionately impact people of color, according to the National Youth Rights Association. That means Black and Hispanic youth will most likely be targeted, while white teenagers will likely be allowed to paint the town red into the wee hours.

The ACLU has already sharply criticized the mayor’s move and plans to send Lightfoot a letter asking how she justifies the restrictions, what legal authority she has to impose them and how they’ll be enforced. 

Awash in guns

Seandell, a student at Gary Comer College Prep, made the disclaimer “if I make it to 21” in a paper assigned to him by staff in a mentoring program he was enrolled in. He knew all too well that gun violence could strike anyone, at any time and any place in the city.

“There are people who die at an early age in Chicago,” Seandell explained to Vondale Singleton, the founder and CEO of C.H.A.M.P.S., which stands for Culturally Helping And Making Positive Success.

A 17-year-old, Marion Richardson, has been charged with the murder and ordered held on a $250,000 cash bond.

A 16-year-old was also arrested with a “ghost gun” near the scene of the crime.

Later Saturday night, less than a mile away in the 300 block of South State Street, two other young men were shot and wounded.

Just four days before Seandell was gunned down following an altercation by “The Bean,” a 19-year-old was shot and wounded while he was riding in the back of a car on Michigan Avenue near the popular stainless steel sculpture.

To say we have a gun problem is an understatement. Curfews won’t solve that.

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Singleton, Seandell’s mentor, was among the local leaders who stood with Lightfoot when she announced the curfew adjustment Monday. Singleton called the changes a “stop-gap to an immediate concern.”

But he also acknowledged that only a “multi-layered strategy” where parents, law enforcement officials, politicians, criminal justice advocates, activists, religious and business leaders get together and “listen to one another” will help.

Singleton said Lightfoot admitted she doesn’t have the answers and will be in touch with him to keep discussing what can be done to address the violence. It’s encouraging that the mayor is listening.

She should also lend an ear to those who point out that curfews aren’t one of those answers

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