Cities and towns across Washington have instituted curfews that needlessly impinge on people’s freedom of mobility, particularly for those whose primary means of transportation are walking, cycling, and public transportation.
We understand the intentions behind instating a curfew. However experience so far shows that curfews are not achieving their objectives, can be selectively enforced (with potential for abuse), and are thereby exposing vulnerable residents to potential harm.
There are many people who must be out in the streets when curfews are in effect, whether to commute to essential jobs or to access essential services. While curfews may include specific exceptions for these cases, these individuals are still potentially subject to being stopped, questioned, harassed, and arrested. Transit agencies and ferries have stopped or reduced service in response to curfews, stranding people from homes, jobs or essential services. This is particularly true for many low income service workers, often people of color, who due to high housing prices commute long distances to their jobs by means other than private motor vehicle.
The danger of the curfew as a selective enforcement tool is revealed in this quote from one mayor when announcing the curfew: “It differentiates between the lawful people & those who choose to break the law.” By this logic, merely being in public makes a person subject to enforcement, and this enforcement is easiest to enact upon those walking, cycling or waiting for transit.
Experience has already shown that the curfew is too harsh a tool for unbiased enforcement. People outside of protest zones can and do violate them with impunity. Many individuals are not even aware of the curfew, or learn of it too late to respond. And even with protesters, the curfew is far from strictly enforced because elected officials and the police understand that criminalizing peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights through a curfew alone would cause political backlash.
Freedom of movement is a constitutional right along with freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of assembly. The curfews are ill-advised, unneeded, burdensome, and carry with them an unacceptable risk of selective and biased enforcement — the very reason the protests are happening.
Some cities are already removing curfews. We call upon cities that have not done so to remove curfews as a policing tool, and allow people to walk in their communities without hindrance or fear.