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At 11:30 last Sunday night, Paul Kuhn stood in front of a recreation center at 14th and Upshur Streets NW, bare-chested, solo, and ready to do battle with a repressive, totalitarian regime—the D.C. government—and its two-week-old juvenile curfew law. Kuhn is neither a D.C. resident nor a teen-ager, so the curfew does not apply to him. He has some complicated reasons for his outspoken opposition, but brevity is the soul of good street theater. “FUCK THE CURFEW” is the curt suggestion on the sign he waves at cars that pass by the designated holding tank for teens caught out past midnight.
An unlikely meld of Rockville resident and anarchist, Kuhn objects to the curfew on practical, as well as political, grounds. “When the Nazis closed their borders, it wasn’t just Germans who suffered, but foreign pilots who flew over German airspace,” says Kuhn. “And curfews have a way of spreading. It starts in the District, but pretty soon Maryland and Virginia will follow.” Kuhn distributed fliers announcing the rally (and encouraging would-be protesters to bring bottles and spray paint) in Georgetown, at Baltimore raves, and at the free Fort Reno concerts. So far, he is alone, but unbowed.
“Being out at night is a right, not a privilege,” Kuhn declares. “The government is perpetuating a worse crime than any the kids might do. We,” he says, granting himself the plural for the moment, “are taking a position in front of the garrison.” (The “garrison” is actually the rec center/holding tank now manned by two Metropolitan Police youth patrol officers.) “Kids can just walk away and we’ll provide cover. The law says you can’t detain someone using force or handcuffs. Those are the rules of engagement”—rules he gleaned from Soldier of Fortune‘s reporting on Waco.
Without an M-16, Kuhn isn’t in a position to assist a getaway, although he has a “tactical pack” containing a gas mask and helmet. Kuhn is something of a nihilistic Boy Scout, ever prepared for the final conflict.
As the curfew witching hour nears, another, more sanguine protester arrives. Like Kuhn, Dave Varney is an adult and a member of Students Against Slavery, a group that encourages Maryland high-school kids to boycott the state’s community-service graduation requirement by dropping out and getting a GED instead. Varney blushes when asked if he would have forfeited his diploma over an afternoon or two in a soup kitchen.
“Luckily, I didn’t have to make that choice—there was no requirement then,” he says.
Varney says constitutional protections should not be the sole domain of adults. “I think what we’re saying is that the curfew violates the equal protection clause and the right to peacefully assemble spelled out in the Constitution. It’s discriminating against an entire class of people,” says Varney. “They say it’s to reduce crime, but [the city] is treating every member of a group as though they had identical motives. It dehumanizes them.”
The two men insist that democracies only enact curfews in a state of emergency, and then only on a temporary basis. A permanent curfew smacks of dictatorship—and racism. “The only reason there is a curfew on young people is that the city couldn’t put a curfew on all blacks,” says Kuhn. Varney blinks, perhaps imagining the mayor and over half the D.C. Council enacting a curfew on themselves. “Let’s just say this: The police are not going to Chevy Chase or Friendship Heights to round kids up,” Varney demurs.
As the curbside pastiche of anarchists and libertarians—all white, all male, all adult—swells to seven, kids roar by in their cars, screaming their approval. Emboldened, Varney hands out a sheet of chants. Kuhn immediately hits upon the anarchist chant marked optional. “Stay out late, smash the state!,” he cries. The other ditties lyrically rhyme “misconstrue” and “eschew” with “curfew.”
For a moment, the crowd diversifies with the arrival of two teen-age girls, Amadzia Simms and Elexxus Grovnor, who regale the white boys with tales of being hassled by the cops. But these girls just wanna have fun, and as the discussion turns to the possibility of a court challenge to the curfew, they leave.
“My court, traditionally, is the street,” opines Kuhn. “We’ll be here as long as the city enforces the curfew. If they quietly abandon it, then we will abandon our protest.” And indeed, both the curfew and its objectors may go gently into the good night. On Saturday, July 29, the city only detained a single curfew violator at a holding tank in Northeast. And though Kuhn staked out the Upshur garrison until about 1:45 a.m., no kids were detained on Sunday. “At least, not in this quadrant of the city,” he says wistfully, as if, at a busier detention center, he might have had cause to don his gas mask.