The new curfew at The Waterfront is a rule I don't like all that much
The Waterfront is imposing a curfew now, which is a silly and bad rule I don't like. I wrote a news piece about it this week, so if you want to hear the details go read that (I'm not trying to rewrite it, go flip to A1 and educate yourself.) The short of it is that if you're under 18, no Waterfront after 6 p.m., and if you're under 21, no Waterfront after midnight. That's right underclassmen, we can't just point and laugh at the unlucky Pittsburgh high schoolers who will now be escorted out of the Dave & Busters as soon as the sun sets. If you're planning on seeing a late night movie at the AMC, you better have a damn good fake or you might get into hot water with the Homestead boys in blue. (Author's note: The Tartan does not condone using fake identification. But if you do happen to have one, for the love of God, don't show it to a cop.)
The natural question to ask is, why right now? What's been happening recently with youth at the Waterfront that we have to impose such a strict curfew? None of the articles reporting on it indicate any rampant spike in criminal activity, and their own policy document does little more than allude to a desire to "deter disruptive activity." So we have to make inferences.
I'm reminded of a supposed trend seen by bar owners on the South Side. Earlier this month, a number of business owners on the South Side used an opportunity to speak in front of state legislators to demand that police be "allowed to do their jobs." The author quotes James Hoffman, part owner of Mario's South Side Saloon (owned by the same people who run the Mario's in Oakland and Shadyside). James alleges that a recent drop in their business is caused by "crowds of unruly people, mostly underaged teenagers" who loiter, drink on the street, disrupt the peace, and get into violent altercations.
Furthermore, Mayor Gainey recently announced that Allegheny County Police will be supplementing city cops in patrolling Downtown Pittsburgh, over concerns of increasing crime and street violence. But is crime really increasing? In the article I linked earlier, after quoting the owner of Mario's, they quote Acting Deputy Chief Linda Rosato-Barone. According to her, "violent crime has actually been decreasing in the South Side Flats neighborhood."
I have similar thoughts on this curfew as I do regarding Mayor Gainey's initiative to increase the number of cops Downtown. I think one should be wary of any increase in police action done to protect business interests. Because, when police are primarily concerned with protecting property and businesses, they might not be incentivized to act in the best interests of the people living in a community.
I also want to talk about the consequences of this curfew, or in other words, won't somebody please think of the children? In sociology, there is a concept called the "third place," referring to a public area where people in a neighborhood can gather and form relationships. For college students, the university center (or student union, as lesser institutions often call it) might be the closest thing you ever have (or ever will) experience that resembles a third place. The term comes from the idea that home is the "first" place and work is the "second" place, but that people still need an additional place to relax and socialize. In European cities this is often a local pub or coffee shop. But unfortunately for Americans, our drinking culture dictates that bars are solely places that adults go to get drunk, and coffee shops are often franchises that want to maximize their sale of expensive drinks. In fact, McDonalds and similar fast-food restaurants pretty frequently serve the function of a third place, which is definitely some sort of powerful metaphor about community prevailing in the face of consumerist capitalism that I'm going to leave as an exercise for the reader.
Anyways, my point in bringing up this idea is to point out that most American cities don't really have anything that approaches this. As many who grew up in America (particularly the suburbs) will know, sometimes the only way to spend time as a teenager is to drive to various parking lots in your city and commit acts of criminal mischief and/or substance abuse. Most of our cities are designed for the car and lack public spaces for kids to spend their time, so as a child you're essentially on house arrest until you (or one of your friends) turns 16 and gets a driver's license. If I was a teenager in Pittsburgh, I could imagine that loitering in the Target and Dick's followed by some Burgatory would be the ideal way to spend an evening. I spent many evenings of my youth similarly at various strip malls in Westchester, New York, and I can imagine how crushed I would have been if the Arcadian Shopping Center imposed any sort of curfew.
But let's now address the concerns of these business owners — youth crime and delinquency is certainly a complicated problem, but I think the city is trying to apply a too simple solution. I see this curfew essentially in the same vein as Mayor Gainey's Downtown police surge and the desire of South Side bar owners to have more cops on the street. Several articles on the subject of Downtown crime brought up a shooting this January, the perpetrator of which was an 18-year-old boy.
Addressing youth crime requires a tremendous amount of time and investment into these children, something our culture and governments seem extremely averse to trying. It's known that juvenile incarceration is extremely counterproductive. The carceral system isn't actually designed to help families in need, it's designed to keep problematic children off the street for as cheaply as possible. So I don't particularly believe that more cops are going to actually address youth delinquency, it's just an easy band-aid to protect business interests and give the impression of solving the problem.
The issue is also complicated because people's livelihoods do depend on businesses doing well — it would be dishonest to frame the interests of businesses as being entirely separate from the interests of the broader community. Furthermore, I want to concede that it's easy for me to talk about crime statistics because for me, these things are just numbers. I'm not a restaurant owner dealing with violence on my sidewalk, and I'm not a parent trying to deal with the behavior of a delinquent child. However, I think a strict curfew isn't the solution either. That solution only makes sense from a worldview where more punishment and more cops is our first answer to complicated issues.
But the greatest issue, I believe, is the fact that the curfew will increase the number of encounters between children and law enforcement, every one of which is an opportunity for police violence to occur.
Our culture has a very punitive mindset with regards to crime, and our first reaction to violence and disorder is to increase police activity. But these sorts of solutions overlook the tremendous amount of other factors that incentivize crime (and how we can use things that aren't police to disincentivize crime). It's also not impossible to imagine that by criminalizing being a child in public after 6 p.m., you're only going to further incentivize those who are already out to engage in more delinquent activity. I think the curfew is perhaps a short-term solution to appease business owners, but ultimately isn't going to serve the city in the way its proponents hope.