Chicago teenagers must be home sooner rather than later under a controversial amendment passed Wednesday by the City Council.
The curfew change — from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the weekends — is part of an effort by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to reduce violent crime that she says has increased due to unaccompanied minors — and has led to high-profile shootings that have struck the city’s downtown core.
The change is not without significant pushback, particularly from the ACLU of Illinois, which argued that increased enforcement could infringe on the civil rights of the city’s youth — particularly Black and brown children. Further, the ACLU has argued, an earlier curfew won’t work in reducing crime.
“Curfews are a discredited relic of 1990s “super-predator hysteria” (as the Marshall Project reported), which imposed draconian limitations and penalties on young people, and which turned out to be plainly incorrect — and extremely damaging to youth,” the ACLU wrote in a statement Wednesday.
Numerous aldermen who oppose the measure spoke out on Wednesday, saying there is “no empirical evidence” to support a stricter curfew. Lightfoot’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, John O’Malley, was not able to provide evidence to show curfews are effective in fighting crime when asked by aldermen last week.
Despite those objections, the City Council moved 30 to 19 to pass the measure, which supporters believe will be another “tool in the toolbox” to help officers reduce crime.
The new curfew could be slated for its first test in the coming weeks, as summer festivals ratchet up in Chicago. Here’s what you need to know about the new curfew rules:
Previously, teenagers 12 through 16 years old had to be home by 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, but could stay out until 11 p.m. on the weekends.
Now, those who are 12 years and older have to be home at 10 p.m., seven days a week, until 6 a.m. the next day. That now includes 17-year-olds. The curfew does not apply to those 18 years and older.
Anyone younger than 12 has to be home by 8:30 p.m. during the week and 9 p.m. on the weekends, until 6 a.m. the following day.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes. Exemptions in the ordinance include:
-Kids exercising their First Amendment rights, like expressing their religion, freedom of speech and/or the right of assembly
-Kids running an errand on behalf of their parent or guardian
-Kids going to or coming home from a job, without any detour or stop
-Kids involved in an emergency — defined in the law as “an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action”
-Kids attending, going to or from an official school, religious, or other recreational activity supervised by adults and sponsored by the city, a civic organization or “another similar entity” that takes responsibility for the minor
-Kids at, or returning home immediately after, a ticketed or sponsored event with “documentary evidence,” such as a ticket stub or wristband with the event name on it.
All of those exemptions have been in place under the city’s long-standing curfew ordinance, except for the last one — which Lightfoot pushed to account for upcoming summer festivals, such as Lollapalooza.
Why the change?
Lightfoot is pushing for the change in an effort to maintain safety citywide, and in the city’s downtown core, after violent incidents involving young people. Lightfoot said an increase in violent crimes and property damage has been exacerbated by unaccompanied minors, though neither her office nor the police department provided data behind the assertion.
She announced the curfew change, as well as another new policy restricting teens at Millennium Park, just days after 16-year-old Seandell Holliday was killed near the city’s iconic Bean sculpture.
How will this be enforced?
Officers are required to take teens who are in violation of their curfew home and release them to the custody of their parents or guardian.
Police are allowed, under the law, to arrest or cite teenagers if they are out past curfew without a legally valid excuse. Officers have, however, testified in front of aldermen that they do not issue citations or arrest teenagers for curfew violations.
Parents or guardians could be cited and required to attend an administrative hearing by the city, police officials said.
The city has seen a precipitous decline in the number of curfew violations recorded by police in the past few years — from 2,453 violations in 2018 to 364 last year, police said, without providing an explanation of the decline.
How does this coincide with the new Millennium Park policy?
A new Millennium Park policy — which restricts when kids can enter the park unattended by an adult — is separate from the citywide curfew aldermen approved on Wednesday.
Kids are prohibited from entering the park without an adult who is at least 21 years old after 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
A 21-year-old is allowed to supervise four minors at a time. The policy is outlined on the park’s website here.
How long will these policies last?
Lightfoot has not said how long the Millennium Park policy would last.
The change to Chicago’s curfew for teens is permanent — unless aldermen change it again.
Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government at WBEZ. You can follow her at @MariahWoelfel.