VILLE PLATTE — The City Council agreed Tuesday to revise its contested late-night walking curfew for adults and to amend the language of the local law in hopes it will meet constitutional muster.
The curfew remains in effect for minors — under the age of 17 — between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and midnight to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.
Before going into executive session to discuss a pending ACLU lawsuit, the council heard from about 28 residents, only one of whom objected to the curfew.
Before the executive session, Councilman Freddie Jack said it was never his intention to remove the entire curfew but to have it only address the statewide curfew regarding juveniles, 17 and under, and to once again permit adults to be allowed to walk at night.
After the executive session, the City Council voted to call a public hearing Nov. 8 to get more public comment on revising the ordinance.
City Attorney Eric LaFleur said the new language will “tighten up” and “address the constitutional concerns” in the ACLU suit.
He said the new language provides exceptions: “to those individuals acting in an emergency situation, standing in the parking lot of a supervised and open business, exercising their constitutional right to commute to or from work or exercising their First Amendment rights such as commuting to or from religious gatherings, public speeches and legally permitted assembly.”
The president of the Evangeline Chapter of the NAACP, Arthur Sampson, on whose behalf the American Civil Liberties Union filed its suit, spoke in favor of totally eliminating the curfew.
“The walking curfew violates our basic constitutional rights. If the city wants to do something, get with business and industry and help find our young people jobs. Remember, this is America, not Iran,” Sampson said.
Resident Andy Poche replied to Sampson’s remarks: “When crime goes down, there will be more businesses and industry coming in to bring more employment.”
The Rev. Eradley Ben said his entire church association — 3,000 members of the Eastern Seventh District Baptist Association — favored keeping the walking curfew for both adults and minors.
Many cities that have implemented curfews have shown a dramatic drop in crime, vandalism and drug dealing, according to Camille Fontenot, executive director of the Ville Platte Chamber of Commerce.
“I feel it is safe to say these people who are walking at 1 or 2 in the morning are not carrying bibles, going to prayer meetings or singing ‘Amazing Grace.’ Let’s keep this walking curfew going,” resident Alfred Thomas added.
The ordinance, in its original form, had been in place since February and the council renewed it three times.
The law made it illegal to travel by foot between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Violators faced a fine up to $200 and/or 30 days in jail, the ACLU suit said.
The ACLU contends the law disproportionately affects lower-income residents.
Mayor Jennifer Vidrine thanked the overflow crowd who expressed their concerns.
“Our number one priority is to protect the public safety of our citizens and we will continue to do everything in our power to do so,” she said.