Curfews give sweeping powers to cops, but are often flouted

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Protesters march across the Brooklyn Bridge as part of a solidarity rally calling for justice over the death of George Floyd Monday, June 1, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Hundreds of cities have imposed curfews to keep the peace during a week of violent unrest across the U.S., employing a tactic that gives law enforcement sweeping arrest powers but is frequently flouted and criticized as being unconstitutional.

From New York City to Fargo, North Dakota, cities large and small have put curfews in place — in some cases for the first time in decades — sending out emergency notices on phones and highway signs urging people to stay off the streets.

But the deadlines aren't hard and fast — many of them have exceptions for people heading to and from work, reporters, public transportation and even people buying groceries. Many protesters and citizens have routinely disregarded the restrictions, and police have allowed peaceful demonstrations to continue after curfew while focusing their attention on violent unrest.

In New York City, an 11 p.m. curfew was originally put in place this week for what appeared to be the first time in nearly 80 years. Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled it back to 8 p.m., but thousands of people defied the curfew Tuesday night, continuing to march in parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. After initially standing by and letting protesters continue, officers began ordering people to leave and some people were taken into custody.

On an overall calmer night in New York City, de Blasio said the relative quiet was due partly to the curfew. " So far, the curfew is certainly helping, based on everything I’ve seen in Brooklyn and Manhattan over the last three hours," de Blasio tweeted.

A curfew allows police the ability without any other reason to threaten to arrest or detain crowds of protesters that linger or groups that appear to be a danger to order. And curfews can be a deterrent to get law-abiding citizens off the street and allow police to focus their efforts on the unrest and not get bogged down in run-of-the-mill violations.

They have been installed in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit, Denver, Philadelphia and hundreds of other cities and communities across the country.

Curfews aren't unusual in the United States but are typically used in natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes to allow law enforcement to stop anyone on the streets and prevent stealing when many homes and empty or damaged. New York City has used curfews in specific locations like parks — sometimes with controversial results.