A racist curfew in Madison

SW contributor Kim Rabuck sent the following article to a local newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, to make the case against a curfew at a local shopping mall.

THE WEST Towne Mall in Madison, Wisconsin, is instituting a curfew--the "Youth Escort Policy" (YEP)--that requires visitors under 18 years of age to be accompanied by a parent or guardian 21 years or older at all times on Fridays and Saturdays after 4 p.m., or at any other time the policy is in effect. In a brochure, CBL & Associates, the corporation that owns the mall, includes 14 regulations surrounding the curfew's implementation.

My family, friends, co-workers and neighbors are disturbed and angered by the plans of the West Towne Mall owners to restrict access to their shopping centers. We are keenly aware of the thinly veiled racism, classism and discrimination based on age or perceived age that will be perpetrated against our children, who are patrons of this establishment.

Before 1970, whites-only hotels, restaurants, schools, restrooms, etc., constituted the overwhelming majority of institutions in the South. The pain and suffering caused by such racist establishments was rampant and eventually deemed unconstitutional. There were mass struggles carried out by African Americans and anti-racist whites to end the abomination that was Jim Crow.

This new discriminatory policy is already in effect. My 19-year-old coworker and her 20-year-old boyfriend, both people of color of Indian descent, were shopping with a younger white friend and were accosted by mall security, asked for identification and told they would soon be disallowed from the mall after 4 p.m. They were then handed pamphlets regarding the new "curfew." Their white friend was ignored as if she wasn't standing next to them, was not asked for ID, and was not given a pamphlet.

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This corporate decision will affect my African American 14-year-old child, and has intellectually and emotionally already done so. Racism has reared its ugly head in our neighborhood and was vividly described in a recent TV news program.

A young woman of color was interviewed, explaining why she and her peers shop, eat and hang out at West Towne Mall regularly, and enjoy doing so. Then, an older white male explained that he feels good about the discriminatory curfew as it "will keep the riff-raff out of the malls." The story went on to say that all of the adults the reporter had asked supported the ban. Hopefully, that sampling was small.

This parent and many more will not tolerate open racism in our neighborhood and will make sure it hurts the mall's image and the profits of the stores within. To any readers who might object to this response, take a moment to consider where your objection is coming from.

The multibillion-dollar corporation CBL, owner of more than 100 properties across the country, has instituted YEP in 20 locations, including both of its Milwaukee malls. This decision is happening in our immediate neighborhood, and it will affect our children, as well as older people of color who are going to be asked for identification. People without ID will, according to the mall's owners, be escorted by mall security to a "holding room" where, with the cooperation of the Madison Police Department, they are to be held until picked up by a parent.

Now, our children will be required to carry ID on their persons to shop. Point number 10 of the YEP policy even goes so far as to explain that youth who work at the mall "will be allowed access without a parent or guardian. Proof of work status will be required, and youth employees must go directly to the place of employment and must leave the property at the conclusion of their work shift if after 4:00...or at any other time the policy is in effect."

So stores can exploit young people as low-wage workers, but they cannot be present in the mall outside of that time when they're being exploited. It would appear that these employees cannot even go to the food court to eat during their breaks.

Where next--Walgreens, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Target, the Holiday Inn? None of these corporations have suggested such a ban, but the slippery slope, especially in Madison, should be pretty obvious to all of us.

The intense struggles at Woolworth's lunch counters that were required to desegregate them--with young Black students being spat upon, screamed at and assaulted--keep flashing in my mind's eye. I'm guessing we all recall those protests--and if not, we should pick up A People's History of the United States or another quality history book and become aquatinted with them.

This "curfew" is an openly discriminatory policy and needs to be objected to and stopped before it spreads.