Downtown Las Vegas needs a curfew that’s fair and just

Our Field Director Howard Watts III penned this blog about the proposed curfew in Downtown Las Vegas. The Las Vegas City Council recommending committee will decide tomorrow, October 1st, if the City Council votes on this new ordinance.

 

Over the last several months, the forces of “economic revitalization” have ramped up a longstanding campaign to remove unhealthy or unwanted elements from Downtown Las Vegas. A more realistic phrasing is that the powers that be are forcibly removing anybody that doesn’t fit their idea of Downtown. Over the past decade, this administrative “disappearing” has focused primarily on homeless people and the low-income African American community which was literally walled off from the core of Downtown during a freeway expansion (they have successfully pushed to get a gateway between the two areas re-established. Fremont-Street-East-street-scene-edit

Recently, as more bars and liquor stores have combined with increased popularity to create a rowdy party atmosphere along the Fremont Street East corridor, authorities have taken to barricading streets, over-enforcing open container laws, and relying on the intervention of the Rangers, a private security force established by billionaire Tony Hsieh, to ensure his newly relocated employees feel safe during their own after-work partying. Now, after collecting anecdotal evidence from Las Vegas Metro Police on underage drinking and hearing the bemoaning of some downtown businesses, the Mayor of Las Vegas introduced a new curfew ordinance. While there is already a curfew in effect throughout the city and even county, this would create a special zone in which minors without specific business downtown would be subject to citation and detention starting at 9:00 pm on weekends (the current curfew for weekends is midnight). This zone would have originally covered a substantial portion of central Las Vegas, including thousands of residents, many of whom are low income and people of color. This would have criminalized the children playing in their neighborhood streets, going to the nearest store or restaurant, or utilizing the social services and community centers within the area. Both child and parent would face fines and potential detention.

Upon learning of this policy proposal (PLAN’s Las Vegas office was within both the first and second proposed set of boundaries), we educated our youth volunteers about the effects it could have on their activities as well as popular cultural events like First Friday, and in the process of our research discovered the flaws in our current citywide curfew. We released a statement and testified on changes to the curfew that would restrict a new zone only to the bar and casino-filled “adults only” area and reduce fines and penalties to keep young people out of the school to prison pipeline. We also highlighted the need to build a downtown that is inclusive for all people, the need for social services to address¬† issues of substance abuse, and a focus on controlling the flow of liquor in Downtown Las Vegas by policing distributors as strictly as we police consumers. Thanks to this pressure, we got the curfew area reduced to our ideal size, and we are continuing to push for a reduction in penalties for curfew violations. This has also helped energize young people in a current issue that directly affects them, showing the importance of civic engagement, and is creating an opening for us to take on issues of Correctional Justice at the state and local levels. A final ordinance could be voted on as early as October 2.

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