Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
EDITORIAL: Cities have the right to impose curfews

EDITORIAL: Cities have the right to impose curfews

  • 0
{{featured_button_text}}
PHOTO: Police line

Fredericksburg Police officers form a line on Caroline Street on May 31, 2020 to disperse protesters who were blocking the downtown street.

DOES THE City of Fredericksburg, or any local jurisdiction in Virginia for that matter, need to get permission from the governor and the General Assembly before imposing a curfew to deal with a civil disturbance?

The answer should be obvious: If the Dillon Rule does not authorize local governments to perform their most basic function—which is protecting their citizens, especially during times of civil unrest, but also during natural or man-made disasters—then we may as well disband local government altogether and let state officials run everything remotely from Richmond.

But Fredericksburg General District Judge Gene Woolard thinks otherwise. On July 31, he ruled that the city curfew, imposed after the protests over the death of George Floyd turned into an altercation with the Fredericksburg Police Department on May 31, was unconstitutional. The judge then deferred about 50 curfew violation cases stemming from the protest until October 30.

The city said it imposed the curfew on June 1 in response to “credible threats of violent or unlawful actions.” City Manager Tim Baroody declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew between 8:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. until June 3, which was ratified by the City Council. Emergency Order #3 cited several sections of the Virginia Code and the City Code to justify it.

It read: “While the curfew is in place, no person shall be present on any street, road, alley, avenue, park, or other public place in the City of Fredericksburg with the following exceptions: Persons traveling to and from home, work, or places of worship; Hospital personnel; Members of the press; State and City of Fredericksburg employees and volunteers; Military personnel including but not limited to national guard troops; Private emergency medical transport workers; Persons seeking emergency services; and Other emergency work.”

Individuals who wished to exercise their First Amendment rights were also encouraged to apply for an expedited permit. The curfew, which was later extended to June 8, was lifted two days early on June 6, but not before about 50 protesters were charged with violating it, a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The city appealed Woolard’s decision, and the case went before retired Judge Joseph Ellis last week. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kevin Gross and City Attorney Kathleen Dooley argued that the city manager and the director of emergency services do, in fact, have authority to impose a curfew under certain circumstances in order to restore order and ensure public safety.

Indeed, the very idea that local governments have to first get permission from Richmond even when all hell is breaking loose is preposterous.

Unfortunately, the city undercut its own argument by not enforcing the curfew until hours after it was declared, needlessly giving protesters the erroneous impression that obeying it was optional. So it should come as no surprise to city officials that dozens of protesters who were eventually arrested for violating the curfew now feel aggrieved.

There is always room for second-guessing whether Baroody should have declared a curfew in the first place, or whether the council should have endorsed it, but not whether local officials had the legal authority to do so. Hopefully Judge Ellis will set the record straight on this.

A curfew is a curfew. One shouldn’t be called unless it’s an emergency, but once declared, it should be enforced without delay. And if you’re going to defy a curfew, get ready to face the consequences.

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

We have it pretty good here in America, if we could stop to appreciate it, as human trafficking and destruction from endless wars abound in the rest of the world, with millions of people living in squalid refugee camps with no other place to go. Whether we think our country is perfect—or not—we should be willing to work together to make our messed-up world a little bit better instead of tearing it down.

Police officers are not the only public employees who are shielded from civil lawsuits and financial judgments for bad behavior. Getting rid of qualified immunity—but just for cops—is clearly discriminatory. Education Week pointed out that “any major changes to that doctrine would also likely affect another group of government workers: public school educators,” who would then also be subject to threats of litigation and frivolous lawsuits as well.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News

News Alert