Curfews = teenageism

There's a song lyric that goes, "Y'all gone and make me act a fool." It comes to mind when I think of how the community has treated me during my teen years.

Teenageism (ten'aj-iz-em) n. Prejudice or discrimination against someone just because they happen to be 13-18 years old, part of a hazing ritual devised by adults.

There are obvious things, like the window sign that says "No More than Two Minors in the Store at One Time." Obnoxious, but these stores suffer by losing us as customers. However, there is more insidious, institutionalized teenageism, like the curfew.

The curfew is a "status" offense -- illegal only because of a person's "status" as a juvenile -- such as running away, skipping school and smoking. It's true, we shouldn't do these things. But criminalizing them, combined with the inevitable racial profiling, is an apartheid process that leaves teens on the outside.

I might as well come right out and admit it: I have a record. I broke curfew. Not once, but twice. A repeat offender.

For kids under 15, the curfew in Hennepin County is 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. weekends; it goes up an hour for kids 15-18.

The first time I got arrested was the summer before I turned 15. My (African-American female) friend Myisha and I got busted at the Uptown bus stop just minutes past 10. Our bus pulled up just as the police shuffled us into the back of their cruiser. People looked in the windows to see what dangerous criminals the police had apprehended. I'm telling you, the world looks different from the back seat of a police car.

They took us to the curfew center over North, where they searched us and emptied our pockets and bags (note the 4th Amendment violation), and called our parents. There were only minority kids in the court hearing in the Government Center. A clerk read our crimes out loud and gave us the option of a fine or community service. My mom thought picking up litter with a busload of other juvenile delinquents would be a good lesson. I met some interesting people during my criminal field trip, exchanged numbers with some nice boys and even told Mom about the kid selling weed on the bus. The next time I got picked up for curfew, Mom just mailed in the fine.

Was our arrest racially biased? I don't know. But being an au-courant racial mlange gives me a chameleon-like gift. When I am around black people, everyone assumes I'm black. When I am in a group of white people, I get treated like a white person.

I do know that I was walking down Sheridan Avenue one time with my (natural blonde female) friend Lia after curfew, the police asked us if we were OK and asked if we needed a ride home.

My next curfew arrest was this summer. My parents thought I had gone to sleep, but I called my (African-American) boyfriend Mike and told him I was hungry. I gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to me by driving to Wendy's and bringing me a burger. This time, we were parked by my house when the police knocked on our car window. Despite my explanation that I lived here, the police again transported me to North Minneapolis. Mike, being 18, was told to go home.

My conclusion? Curfew is a teenageistic tool for enabling racism… or a racist tool for enabling teenagism.

Except when I'm busted for breaking it, my mother loves the legal curfew. Every time I try to discuss staying out later, she just says, "It's the law, honey. If you have a problem, take it up with the Legislature."

I tell her consider that African-Americans make up only 33 percent of the teenage population in Minneapolis but 63 percent of kids who are arrested for curfew. I remind her of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. She is unmoved.

I suspect I won't find many adult allies in my crusade against the curfew. I just ask you to think this through. The world is suspicious of me. And it's shaping my view of the world and myself. OK, so maybe you've not gone make me act a fool. But you'll do it to somebody. That gives us teens three choices: endure this nasty hazing and perpetuate it, act the fool and never get on the inside, or stand up for change.

Katie Carlson lives in Linden Hills and attends South High.