Emanuel wants to toughen curfew law by covering 17-year-olds

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Chicago teenagers under the age of 18 would have to be off the streets by 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, under a mayoral crackdown proposed Wednesday that some aldermen fear could trigger a political backlash.

Three years after turning back the curfew clock for Chicago kids under the age of 12, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to broaden the curfew umbrella by covering everyone under the age of 18, instead of 17.

Emanuel said his motives are two-fold: be “consistent with state law” and its definition of juveniles and, more importantly, keep as many young people as possible safe.

“The first [curfew change] we did was to [shift] the responsibility to parents. This alteration is just to be consistent with what the state says between the ages of 17 and 18 and where they say the cut-off is. But the goal, regardless of that, is to make sure kids — during school nights and even on the weekend — are home safe at hours and that parents have a responsibility to make sure they’re indoors,” the mayor said.

“There are times in which we hear and read stories where we’re wondering why is a child out when they should be literally at those hours — not on the porch, not out on the playground — but in bed asleep . . . Too often and too frequently, all of us shake our heads because we hear these stories about an 11-year-old out at hours when they need to be indoors.”

Won’t high school seniors who can drive and vote chafe at the new rules?

“That may be true, but they may be safe, also. And safety is primary,” he said. “The goal isn’t what is popular. The goal is what keeps our kids safe and what is consistent…They should be indoors. At later hours, they should not be out on the street.”

The mayor’s decision to broaden the curfew umbrella did not sit well with some Chicago aldermen—even those from crime-ridden wards.

“I agree that kids need to be kept safe, but 17-year-olds in the eyes of the courts are predominantly treated as adults. If you’re gonna be treated and arrested and convicted like an adult, then you should at least have some of the benefits,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

Asked if he considers the mayor’s move a mistake, Brookins said, “Potentially.” Pressed to explain why, he said, “17-year-olds can vote….They have discretion. They should know better. They should be held to a higher standard than 15- and 12-year-olds. I just don’t know that it is a good policy reason — the same way things like foie gras have passed through this City Council.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said he’s “all about safety for our kids” and getting them off the street. But, he said, “17 may be a little bit of a stretch….It’s up for discussion. Nothing has been finalized and we’ll fight it out in committee.”

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) survived a childhood in Cabrini-Green and 2½ years in prison for armed robbery to become the first convicted felon ever elected to the City Council. He was pardoned in 1998.

Burnett is well aware of the dangers of being on the streets late at night. But he also has an 18-year-old son who just went off to college.

“When he was 17, he didn’t have to deal with the curfew. You allow them to drive your car . . . A lot of 17-year-olds are seniors in high school. You treat them like young adults, give `em a little more leeway — especially if they’re doing good in school,” Burnett said.

“I just want to make sure that we don’t put young people in a position where they will fail — where they will do something that they normally do and then, get in trouble for it. I really have to think about it, talk to my kid about it, talk to other kids about it.”

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, said the mayor’s rationale makes sense.

“We do have a problem with a lot of kids being shot. Maybe that could make a dent,” Solis said.

“It’s an extra tool to use. We don’t have the police manpower to check on everbody’s age. But if the circumstance requires it, that’s something else the police could use.”

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) championed an earlier ordinance that would require the parents of minors arrested for curfew violations three times in one year to get parental counseling. She’s all for the mayor’s plan to get even tougher.

“We’re living in different times. The streets are not as safe as they used to be. Families need that extra support to draw their kids in the house. I think it’s a good thing,” she said.

The city’s curfew ordinance has gotten progressively tougher over the years as mayors and aldermen try desperately to stop the bloodshed on Chicago streets.

In 2009, then Mayor Richard M. Daley turned back the curfew clock by 30 minutes — to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends for Chicago’s 730,000 kids under the age of 17. The curfew then was exactly the same for younger kids.

Two years later, Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy embraced a controversial proposal to turn back the curfew clock for kids under the age of 12 — to 8:30 pm. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends.

Their formidable support persuaded the City Council to carve out an earlier curfew time for younger kids at the request of three South Side aldermen who wanted to protect unsupervised kids and put the heat on indifferent parents.

That was followed by a police crackdown on curfew enforcement.

Now, Emanuel wants to take it a step further — by reining in even older kids.

State law was recently changed to raise the age of minors processed under the Juvenile Court Act from 16 to 17. The mayor’s change would align Chicago’s curfew age with the age of those young people processed by the juvenile justice system.

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