Only one of the approximately 10 original members of the Port Washington Youth Rights Club would be affected by the Village of Port Washington North's Halloween curfew for all those under the age of 19 years old. However, Stefan Muller, the past co-president of the club, says it was the principle that motivated the members to challenge the village's law that has stood for 20 years.
Recently, Muller met with Deputy Police Chief Ronald DeMeo to discuss whether the police feel the curfew is necessary 20 years after the original incident. According to Muller No vandalism has occurred in this area even though the other villages and towns do not have curfews. No one has even been arrested for violating the curfew. To Muller it appears that the curfew law is unnecessary. But the police chief was unconvinced, according to Muller.
When the club was started last year without funds from Schreiber High School but with advisor Joan Bester, who donated her time, they met once a week to discuss youth rights. (The club does not have an advisor this year and so has been formally disbanded.) During one of those early meetings then junior Mara Hollander of the Village of Port Washington North brought up the curfew law. The club's main focus became having the law overturned because, in Muller's words, "It restricts rights." On the website of the National Youth Rights Association there is a section discussing curfews, www.youthrights.org/curfewana.php , that states, "The US Supreme Court in many cases has ruled that people have constitutional rights regardless of age." Muller, who is now vice-president of the National Youth Rights Association, espouses their assertion that curfew laws are unconstitutional, though as the website explains, the supreme court has not made any decisions on curfew laws: "Curfew laws directly remove the right to assemble in public, and many times even on private property. The constitutionality of youth curfew laws has yet to be tested in the US Supreme Court. Lower courts are divided over the issue, many ruling unconstitutional, and many ruling constitutional." Also the website further states that the curfew laws have not been proven effective unless in temporary situations such as in time of war or riots.
When Muller contacted Port Washington North Mayor Weitzner last November, one result was that the club was asked to come up with amendments to the curfew law, but the club preferred to suggest alternatives since they considered the law unfair. Muller wrote back, "Instead, we are presenting four alternate proposals for methods we believe to be as effective, or more so, at reducing vandalism as the curfew law. None of these proposals should cost the village substantial amounts of additional money or resources, and we consider all of these to be reasonable restrictions. We realize that, as was said at the November board meeting, in order to keep order, the people must give up some rights. However, our group is mainly concerned with those laws that require only one group of the population to give up rights. Some of our proposals require all people to give up some rights (thus are still restrictive, but are fairer and more constitutionally sound), but others of our proposals do not require the loss of rights by any citizens." For example the club suggested a new law that covers people of all ages, "making it illegal for people to be in public places within the village with the intent of destroying property." Another suggestion was a new law proposing "a restriction to be placed upon the size of a group of individuals allowed on public or private property during the nighttime hours of the Halloween period, limiting the amount of individuals in any group to 15. The law enables police officers to break up any group of individuals larger than 15 persons with reasonable suspicion."
The club presented their alternatives to the village in January. However, it appeared that the club's efforts were not making any headway in repealing the original law. So then Tara Keenan-Thompson, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, presented the students' cause at the September monthly village meeting. Subsequently both The New York Times and Newsday ran a story on the students' challenge to the curfew law. At the next village monthly meeting on Oct. 22 at 7:30 pm, a public hearing on the curfew law will take place, followed by a vote by the trustees if they decide any action should be taken regarding the law.
When Mayor Weitzner was recently asked by the Port News for his opinion on the request to the village by the Youth Rights Club to repeal the curfew law as it stands and write a new law that does not single out any age group, he replied, "My belief is that if the law is flawed, and unconstitutional, it needs to be fixed. We have had a peaceful existence in our Port North hamlet since the incident 20 years ago. Is it because of the curfew, or are kids acting better and parents are more responsible? However, I understand the position of people who lived through the terror. I empathize. Writing a new law that protects the residents without infringing on the constitution would be great. The question is, is that possible, and is our current law really unconstitutional? Hopefully the public hearing will give us the answers." He also praised the students of the Youth Rights Club by saying, "I admire their effort and fortitude. They have been somewhat relentless in their quest to repeal this curfew. This is a great lesson in how local government works and how to invoke change. I wish more people would take their approach."
In the most recent village newsletter which can be found on the village website, www.portwashingtonnorth.org, a short article describes the curfew law. It states, "In order to ensure that Halloween is a pleasant experience for everyone, Port North has for many years imposed a curfew. All those under the age of 19 years may only be on village streets if accompanied by an adult: between 7 p.m. Oct. 30 to 6 a.m. Oct. 31and 7 p.m. Oct. 31 to 6 a.m. Nov. 1. Police will patrol to enforce the law."
The incident in 1987, which led to the law, involved a group of teenagers rioting through the village, painting swastikas and throwing Molotov cocktails and bricks through windows. A police car was overturned and an officer was injured.