Across North Carolina, cities and towns are imposing curfews in response to protests. Today, the mayor of Raleigh imposed an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew covering the entire city, with limited exceptions and no end date. Greensboro, Fayetteville, and other cities have taken similar steps.
Curfews that bar all presence in public spaces are far broader than necessary to address problems at protests and inevitably sweep up necessary activities like providing care to others, particularly at a time when people's resources are already strained by the pandemic and stay-at-home orders. The Raleigh curfew exempts only public safety employees, hospital and medical workers, on-duty military personnel, public utilities, public transit employees, and journalists. No one else may travel on city streets unless they are seeking medical care or a "commodity or service necessary to sustain the well-being of themselves or their families."
Broad and vague curfews imposed by local leaders invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. By making it unlawful to be present on public streets anywhere in the city, with only vague exceptions, these measures give police too much discretion over whom to arrest and will lead to selective enforcement against people of color and risk harassment of people who are unhoused. Combined with the aggressive show of military force and the troubling accounts of police using tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets not just in response to threatened force but against peaceful protesters, these approaches repeat the violence and brutality that are at the root of the protests.
People have a constitutional right to demand justice and express their views. If curfews must be implemented, the policies should meet the following strict criteria:
- Provide clear communication to the public when and where it will apply, articulate valid justifications for the restrictions, and provide ample alternative locations where people may gather to express their views without fearing arrest or military-style assault.
- Be limited to the specific places in the city where there is an imminent threat of danger or harm, not the entire city.
From the founding of our nation, the people have taken to the streets and sidewalks, in good times and bad, in times of peace and times of war, to express their opinions to the public and to the government.
Restricting this most fundamental of all American values is not a solution to the problems in our state. We need more protest, expression, discussion, and debate—not less.