Curfews like those imposed in cities amid rioting over the death of George Floyd last week help in restoring order as well as enabling civil protest, says one criminology professor.
A curfew “draws a bright line between those who are protesting and those who are seeking other activities,” said Dennis Kenney, a former law enforcement agent and now a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “You still allow for the venting and frustration, but then later in the evening you have the authority to enforce the curfew.”
Mayors in cities and towns across the country have imposed curfews to curb looting, vandalism and other violence as protests heat up. Nationwide, nearly 9,000 people have been arrested and 12 have died in rioting over the death of Mr. Floyd, a black man who died last Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes.
In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey implemented five nights of curfews beginning at dusk. On Sunday evening, officers arrested some 150 people near a Minneapolis gas station for violating the curfew.
“Even peaceful protesters who are breaking curfew are subject to arrest,” tweeted the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. “Please go home and stay there.”
A spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department said they want to protect those who march but wouldn’t “coddle those who are bent on exploiting the very real pain our community feels.” After looting and vandalism at businesses in the Midway neighborhood last week, the spokesman said “most have gone home.”
Minneapolis and St. Paul — Minnesota’s largest cities — extended their dusk-to-dawn curfews two more days on Wednesday, like other cities throughout the country. In Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer extended the curfew until June 8.
“There is a limit to how long you can extend it,” said Mr. Kinney, the criminologist. “If the curfew becomes significantly intrusive, it becomes part of the problem.”
Curfews can tread a fine constitutional line, said Mr. Kenney, who has worked with police forces around the world in pre- and post-conflict zones. To be effective, curfews must be imposed with clarity and an element of trust, he said.
In Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin set a 7:45 p.m. curfew on Monday only minutes beforehand; violence ensued. On Monday, federal law enforcement began dispersing protesters nearly 30 minutes before a 7 p.m. curfew in the District of Columbia.
“You try to establish a social contract,” Mr. Kenney said. “But when the police break that social contract, you have a problem.”
Recent curfews have had varied success around the country. Nearly 3,000 people have been arrested in Los Angeles after Mayor Eric Garcetti imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for four consecutive days. It is not clear how many arrests have been for curfew violations.
In the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser pushed back Wednesday’s curfew by four hours to 11 p.m. after Tuesday evening’s protests — attended by thousands in defiance of the curfew — remained much more peaceful than previous evenings.
“We regard putting a curfew in place as something that’s very serious,” Miss Bowser said.
Curfews are employed most commonly as deterrents during natural disasters to allow law enforcement to stop pedestrians or motorists from interfering with clean up operations or looting unoccupied homes.
They also have been used to keep people off the streets during civil unrest. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ramped up enforcement of Central Park’s curfew after a string of robberies in the late 1990s.
Many localities are imposing curfews for the first time in response to civil unrest.
On Sunday, the mayor of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, a vacation community 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis, set a curfew after police heard chatter of a busload of protesters coming from Minneapolis.
“I suspect we’re the smallest town around to ever have one of these curfews,” said Mayor Matt Brenk. “I just didn’t want things to go in the wrong direction.”
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