Each year since 2012, the Detroit City Council has passed “emergency” ordinances making it a crime for minors to leave their homes without their parents after 6 p.m. at the annual fireworks night in late June.
Although the ordinances had been adopted to prevent problems during the Independence Day celebration on the Detroit River, the curfew applied anywhere within Detroit’s 139 square miles.
Further, there were no exceptions for minors engaging in First Amendment-protected activities such as attending church or attending youth group meetings, and parents could not even give their 17-year-old permission to walk down the block to visit friends or relatives or go to the fireworks with a grandparent.
The ACLU of Michigan sent a letter in 2014 advising the city that the curfew was overbroad and unconstitutional, yet the city was poised to re-enact the ordinance in 2015 for not only the night of the fireworks, but also during the three days leading up to the fireworks night. We mobilized a successful lobbying campaign in June 2015, meeting with city council members, community leaders, and the press, encouraging dozens of youth and community members to speak at a council meeting. The council voted down the expanded curfew, limited the curfew to just the riverfront area after 8 p.m. on fireworks night, and added numerous favorable exceptions to the general 11 p.m. curfew ordinance, such as youth exercising first amendment freedoms adn youth accompanied by adults other than their parents.
(ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, Wayne State Law School Civil Rights Clinic Students Joshua Zeman and Zainab Sabbagh)