Friday, October 16, 2009

Of curfews and protests - Part 1

I live outside the city of Greenville, but visit the downtown area regularly. The city has done an excellent job of renovating the area and has a park that is outstanding (see here for details). It's nice for a romantic stroll with your significant other, a playdate with the kids, or just a place to meet and talk. We occasionally have street performers and even Shakespeare plays in the park (which is more culture than I can stand). Dinners downtown are a little pricey and you have to work at finding a parking place (or just break down and pay for it), but it's worth the price once in a while.

Recently, however, there have been some problems. Back in August, there were "between 500 and 800 young people at the park" and there were reports of them blocking streets and impacting business (source). As a result, the city implemented a temporary curfew affecting children under 18. The curfew starts at 10pm.

More recently, we had our Fall for Greenville festival - A "three-day event highlighting local restaurants and musical entertainment on five music stages" (see here) - it's just a weekend to walk the streets, enjoy some food and some music with the family. Unfortunately, after the event on Saturday this year there were fights, again mostly teenagers involved.

Now, the city council is considering making the curfew permanent and has scheduled a second reading of the new ordinance. Basically, kids under 18 without an adult would not be allowed on downtown business district streets after 10pm without an adult.

However, not everyone likes the idea of a curfew. I've been watching one outspoken individual, Dan Edge, who has been fighting it. Dan has started a blog and even staged a protest against the curfew early last month. During the protest, he passed out flyers encouraging others to join his "sit-in". At least three teens did join and stayed past curfew. When they were asked to leave, two left and a third stopped to talk to Mr. Edge. The third teen was arrested, prompting one of the other two to return and he was arrested. Mr. Edge was then arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Two counts, one for each of the teens that were arrested. (The long sordid details of this battle are on Mr. Edge's blog, I invite you to read it all there).

Dan Edge has some serious squabble about the new law, starting with the fact that there is no freedom of speech allowance. Yesterday was his first court appearance and I managed to go watch. Mr. Edge acted as his own attorney and he was advised several times of his rights to an attorney. As this was just a probable cause hearing, he felt it wasn't necessary. At the end of the hearing, the judge felt there was indeed probably cause to proceed and the matter is now being sent to the city attorney. The city attorney can hand this to a grand jury, who would decide whether or not to indict and then the case would go to trial.

During the hearing, the judge warned Mr. Edge that the hearing was NOT about the constitutionality of the ordinance nor even about the ordinance itself, but was strictly about his actions and was there evidence to pursue a trial on the grounds of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He advised that he did not want to turn this into a political forum. The judge decided that since two teens were arrested (he had heard one of those cases himself) and since Edge had been conversing with the teens and passing out flyers for the protest, the case should proceed.

In addition to the above, Mr. Edge feels like his civil rights were violated when he was arrested. He has announced that he is suing the city of Greenville. He's been interviewed by the local television station and as mentioned, he's started a blog to document the issue.

I've tried to stay objective in what I've written above, I'll come back in part 2 and offer my opinion. As always, I'm interested in your opinion and ask that you be respectful in anything you say here.


"The Edge" said...

For the record, I would like to disclaim that I am in no way associated with Dan Edge. In fact, I have never met him, heard of him, or of his views on this issue prior to today. And also for the record, Dan Edge is not the author of "The Edge Of The Galaxy" blog which I author. However, regardless of the above, Dan Edge as a citizen of these United States is entitled to his opinions (although not necessarily voicing them publicly), regardless of whether we feel he is correct or not. And as I have personally stated many time in my blog, each person should be made to account for their own actions.

Also for the record, Edge Of The Galaxy has no official position on Dan Edge, his views, or his politics.

Randy said...

Definitely a different "Edge".

You said "Dan Edge ... is entitled to his opinions' and I certainly agree.

However, the case at hand is whether or not he has the right to influence children. And whether or not he did influence children. Those two points have not yet been decided (that's what the trial is for). So far, it's been decided that there WAS EVIDENCE that he did influence children.

I'll post my opinion next week.

Realist Theorist said...

"Influencing children" is too broad a way of describing the accusation. After all, an inspiring school teacher can influence children, and that is not a crime -- just the opposite.

The accusation is narrower: whether he influenced them (i.e. "contributed to") doing something that the law could stop them from doing (a delinquency).

In this case, the specific delinquency was the kids supposed refusal to obey a police officer's orders to leave the scene.

If we take the facts as presented by Dan, those kids ought not to be arrested, because they were actually in the process of leaving. There are some kids who might stand up to an officer and say something like: "I won't". That was not the case here, if we take Dan's account of the facts as being true. The kids were clearly in the process of leaving.

Why would the officer arrest kids who were trying to leave? Well, that is easy to explain. Most adults have encountered many people in places of authority, and every now and then one of these people is full of himself and wants not simply to enforce his mandate, but to be a bully.

I would not put it past some senior officer to have specifically told this particular cop to deal with the situation, to teach these folks a lesson. However, that is just speculation.

Back to topic, those two kids were clearly not being delinquent, unless the city produces some evidence to show that they were serious trying to stay.

Take the kid who returned: It is quite ridiculous that a kid who comes back to try to check on his friend's departure, presumably to encourage him to beat it out of there, should instead be accused of doing the opposite -- i.e. of not leaving. This points to the cop looking for an excuse to arrest the kid.

Now, consider the other kid. He stopped to hand over a poster and to thank Dan. Are these acts evidence that he intended to stay? Obviously not, they're signs that he was taking his leave. It was -- of course -- a sign that he did not agree with the cop, even though he was in the process of obeying. Clearly, then, he was arrested primarily for his views, and not his actions.

As shown, therefore, the cops ought not to have arrested either of the kids, because neither of them was being delinquent. If there was no delinquency, it follows that Dan could not have contributed to any.

We all want a strong and forceful police, to make sure our rights are protected. Yet, the last thing we need is a police who fail to make a distinction between a crime and some simple, child-like protest. The last thing a free country needs is a police force of bullies.

Randy said...

Realistic, you're right of course about the difference between influence and contributing. In my comment, I was trying for brevity.

During the hearing, the judge was adamant (almost to the point of rudeness)that the issue was not if the teens should have been arrested. He commented that he had to assume that the law was valid. The point of this hearing (and subsequent trial if it goes that far) was if Mr. Edge contributed to the delinquency of these particular teens.

What might be an interesting exercise would be to assume that Mr. Edge is found guilty, then the teens or someone else have the law stricken down. If this happens, would Mr. Edge's conviction be turned over? I presume he would need to appeal at that point.

I'm not a lawyer, don't play one on TV and haven't stayed at a Holiday Inn lately. All of the previous paragraph is speculation by an unqualified source. And it doesn't matter yet, because Mr. Edge hasn't been to trial and it hasn't been decided that there will be a trial.

Tipper said...

Interesting case-with lots of different angles to look at. I'll be looking forward to your opinion. My 2 cents-doesn't really have to do with Mr. Edge. I just wonder-what will happen if the curfew isn't enforced? Will the town be taken over by kids who are rowdy?

Realist Theorist said...

Randy, you said: "..., the judge was adamant ... that the issue was not if the teens should have been arrested. He commented that he had to assume that the law was valid. "

I'm curious about this, because the way I understood it, the curfew law does not specify that kids who violate it will be arrested and taken to trial. Do you know if the kids were arrested for breaking curfew, or for disobeying the cops orders? From what I've heard, it is the latter, and therefore the curfew law itself is the motivation, but not the reason for the arrest.

If the kids were being arrested for disobeying the officer's order to leave, then they appear to be NOT guilty, because they were in fact leaving. Their arrest was wrongful, because they were obeying the order, and the real reason for their arrest appears that they were not servile enough. Clearly, the cop stepped over his bounds, taking away their liberty for a falsely concocted security. That is the manner of bullies who get into positions of power.

Randy said...

Tipper, my opinion piece should come out on Tuesday. I'm letting this settle in before I weigh in.

As to what would happen if the law wasn't enforced, well there was a second incident a few weeks ago. I suspect there will be continued sporadic events where teens block the streets and have fights. Gang activity has NOT been indicated to date (and yes, we do have some gang activity in the area).

Realist, it's my understanding that two teens were arrested and at least one has been before the judge. The hearing I attended did not focus on that at all.

During a trial (if there is one), I suspect Mr. Edge can use those arguments in his defense.

I should point out that the judge's attitude could have been considered rude. But I've seen other judges take that attitude when they considered their time being wasted. He did give Mr. Edge time to make his statement and gave him some leeway in questioning.

Cameron said...

Why were 800 kids in the city park? They weren't all there just to hang out.

Randy said...

Cameron, my question would be why did 800 sets of parents allow their kids to go to the park?

It does seem like a lot of kids...