Curfew 2

Where’s common-sense law enforcement?

When my son went to court for being out after curfew not long ago, at no time did anyone mention why all that was being done: the citation, the fine, the community service—all of it. The judge implied that we were all there because my son’s mother worries about him, especially when she gets a late-night call from the police.

The whole time we were there—maybe an hour—I don’t think I ever heard the word “law.” “You broke the law.” “You disobeyed a government directive.” Maybe there had been some trouble around a child being out late at night, and some fearful politician had decided that the time of day was important in regard to minors and warranted extra restrictions at night. So some politicians decided that people under a certain age should not be out after a certain time.

That seems to be how a lot of laws come into being, as an instant and yet final response to some unpleasantness, as though each law brought us collectively closer to a perfect world and deserved our respect and unquestioning obedience. Some people have a lot of faith in laws, in their essential goodness and inevitability, although they come from the likes of congressmen, many of whom are lawyers to start with.

Now laws are being named after people, like Megan’s law, which requires publishing the addresses of sex offenders. What is that for, exactly? Do we think that sex offenders, who may have only imagined sex or talked some sweet young thing into doing it (which I think is a God-given right), operate only close to home? Are child molesters loathe to leave their neighborhoods? Can’t they just look for decals on windows and bumper stickers?

I once suggested publishing cops’ addresses and total kills. That seemed reasonable at the time, but I don’t know that expanding invasions of privacy and making them more common will affect anything in a way I think of as good, or make me feel better for knowing about it. I think people who think of children as sex partners are gonna find a way to work that out. What else are they going to do with that urge and willingness? Making sublimation illegal, too, bolsters the punishment industry, and that’s probably all it does.

My guess is that if the cop who stopped my son and his friend had told them that they were risking a $25 fine and 10 hours of community service—which gave them something to put on a résumé, and so worked out fine—they would have made sure never to be caught out after curfew again.

The same result could have been accomplished with far less trouble and expense, but somewhere along the way that kind of generosity has become accepted as not just kindness and understanding and common sense, but as a sign of approval. If you don’t want to punish it, then you must like it, no exceptions and no tolerance for any contradiction. May I see some ID?