Students in Connecticut town fighting curfew

Thursday, November 19, 1998

A U.S. district court judge this week agreed to consider in January a Vernon, Conn., family's lawsuit contesting the town's curfew ordinance on grounds that it unconstitutionally restricts youngsters' free-assembly rights.

Janet Ramos and her two sons, Angel and Richard, filed their complaint last month. They are seeking an injunction, claiming that enforcement of the curfew ordinance “will continue to cause irreparable harm” to minors and parents in Vernon.

“My sons are good kids, and they have earned my trust,” Ramos said in a statement faxed to this Web site. “This fight is for their rights as young adults to have the freedom to walk home from a friend's house or walk to the store with permission without fear of being stopped and searched by the police and being made to feel like criminals.”

Vernon's curfew-for-minors ordinance prohibits persons younger than 18 from being outside of their homes between the hours of 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and midnight to 5 a.m. on weekends, unless accompanied by an adult. The law allows some exemptions for youths returning home from work or school events and for those who have a permission note from their parents.

The court plans to hold an injunction hearing on Jan. 4 and 5 in Bridgeport, Conn.

Town leaders praise the curfew, citing it as a reason the town has seen a tremendous drop in crime. But curfew opponents contend that, while overall crime is down, juvenile arrests have soared since the town imposed the curfew.

Despite the pending lawsuit, the Vernon Town Council voted unanimously on Oct. 20 to extend the curfew for another year.

Under pressure from students and their parents, Mayor Joseph Grabinski agreed to a second vote, telling the council: “It doesn't hurt to do it twice. It's a double yes.”

On Nov. 4, high school students presented the council with a petition signed by more than 700 persons asking that the ordinance be repealed. The council, on its second vote, upheld the ordinance with seven members voting in favor and three abstaining.

Students and parents continue to protest. Tuesday night, more than two dozen students held a rally before a council meeting to urge town leaders to repeal the four-year-old curfew law.

“We made an impact, and we will continue to do so,” said Stratos Pahis, a junior at Rockville High School and vice president of the school's student council. “We won't back down that easily.”

In an e-mailed statement, Stratos said: “People are starting to realize that the town should be targeting people for what they do and not for who they are. Town council members are not living up to their responsibilities as statesmen of the free world. They're passing and supporting laws characteristic of dictatorial regimes.”