Why I Oppose the Curfew Bill – Suzy Subways
Good morning. I’m a medical editor, I live in Southwest, and I’m with Occupy Philly.
In order to support the curfew bill, we would have to be able to trust that the police would not use racial profiling when enforcing it, and that the media would tell us if the police abused their power. I don’t think that trust is realistic.
I’m here to tell you about something I witnessed last summer. It was after midnight on Saturday July 10, 2010. I was walking down South Street with a friend, and there were a lot of young people around, as usual on South Street on a Saturday night. I felt safe. But I saw dozens of police riding up the street and both sidewalks on horses and motorcycles, clearing the street and sidewalks. The cops on horses started chasing the young people, yelling at them and shoving them, even if they were on the sidewalk. It was terrifying.
To me, the racism was clear. I’m a white woman in my 30s, and I was yelling at the police, asking why they were doing this, yelling about our rights, but they ignored me and allowed me to walk wherever I chose. However, the young black people were treated very differently. Those who tried to walk peacefully down a side street to get away were being chased by police on foot with nightsticks.
They were being corralled and forcibly marched for almost ten blocks, up to Broad Street. And it was deeply humiliating, because they were not doing anything, except being out. Their city was telling them they were garbage. I talked with several young people on South Street afterward who told me that the police routinely stop black teenagers there and rough them up when they aren’t doing anything. A restaurant worker told me he saw someone get beaten by 4 or 5 cops and tasered later that night.
If you didn’t hear about the events of July 10, 2010, that’s because the media didn’t cover it, except for a very brief article in the Inquirer that quoted a police official who said they had shut down South Street because of large crowds. No young people were interviewed about their experience that night. Their story about what had happened to them was never told.
Hysteria and racial profiling can do incredible damage. Do you remember how the media covered the brutal assault of the Central Park jogger in New York City in 1989? All over the country, people heard about the threat of “wilding teenagers.” I was living with my father in Virginia at the time, and I’ll never forget the fury with which my English teacher railed against the “evil” that was taking hold of urban young people, as she told us about the case. Five teenagers from Harlem went to prison and served between 7 and 13 years, before a confession and DNA evidence showed that the real perpetrator was an adult who was a serial rapist. In every state, for years after the assault, people knew about the case, and it shaped their ideas about youth and violence. But hardly anyone heard the news that the teenagers didn’t do it.
After what I saw last summer, I don’t trust the police to have the best interests of our young people, parents and communities at heart. And I don’t trust the media to keep us informed of what the police are doing.
When I was 17 and a Central High School student, in 1991 – a much more dangerous time than now to live in Philadelphia — I used to come home on the Broad Street night owl bus by myself after midnight sometimes. I didn’t drink, use drugs, or hurt anyone. I just went out to enjoy some music and explore and be a part of my city. I loved being a teenager in Philadelphia. This bill tells teens from Philly that they are not welcome to fully explore, enjoy, and be part of our city. Let’s take the money that would have been used by this bill and instead use it to start giving our young people a future.