From Citations to Dog Walking: What You Need to Know About Bay Area Curfews

A demonstrator outside Oakland police headquarters on May 29 carries a sign carrying the dying words — "I can't breathe" — spoken by George Floyd, the African American man killed May 25 by police in Minneapolis. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

More than a dozen Bay Area jurisdictions have imposed curfews as daily protests continue against police violence throughout the region following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer on Memorial Day.

Over the weekend, Bay Area localities began announcing curfews, one after another. Though some cities have announced they will be lifting curfews, including San Francisco and San Jose, the orders are still prompting many questions from residents — both from those who are participating in protests and those who aren't.

We're answering questions from our readers about the recently imposed curfews. Curfew guidelines may vary from county to county, so check with your jurisdictions's website for the most specific information:

Still have questions about curfews? Ask us here.

Which Bay Area Jurisdictions Are Under Curfew?

Here's an updated list.

Who Is Exempt From the Curfews?

Check your locality’s announcement for specific exemptions. However, most Bay Area cities and counties exempt:

  • Police officers, firefighters, emergency operation employees or any other responding personnel deployed to the area.
  • People who can "establish to the satisfaction of a peace officer" that they are outside for the sole purpose of traveling to a home or workplace or to seek medical assistance.
  • Authorized journalists and employees of media organizations.
  • People experiencing homelessness.

What Will Happen If I'm Out Past Curfew?

If you're stopped by police and they determine you're not exempt from the curfew, the officer could issue a citation or make an arrest. According to the San Francisco Police Department when the city was under curfew, people could be booked rather than cited and released if the police determines there was a likelihood the offense or offenses would continue or that "the safety of persons or property would be imminently endangered by the person arrested."

Here is the National Lawyers Guild's pocket-size practical resource guide for people dealing with law enforcement, which is available in multiple languages.

What Should I Do If I'm Cited or Arrested?

If you need legal support for yourself or someone else, you can receive assistance by calling the National Lawyers Guild hotline at 415-909-4NLG. If you're inside a Bay Area jail, you can call 415-285-1011. Here is more information on legal support provided by the National Lawyers Guild.

Additionally, if you believe you were wrongfully cited or experienced police misconduct, you can file a complaint with the law enforcement agency.

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Can I Walk My Dog? Can I Go Outside for a Reason Not Listed as Exempt?

Dog walking is not listed as an exemption under curfews in many jurisdictions. According to SFPD spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak, it's up to the individual officer if they decide to cite you for it.

"Officers have discretion and I can say that if I contacted someone walking their dog after curfew, I'd verify their address and ask them to finish up and go home," Andraychak wrote in an email. "If I determined the person was from out of town or did not live in that neighborhood, I would consider a citation."

However, the ACLU says the guidelines are leaving many people confused, and they've received dozens of reports from people getting arrested for doing things like going to the grocery store, visiting a relative or going to work.

"People are scared to leave their houses because they're afraid of getting arrested or picked up, just to sort of take a walk around the block. And the breadth of imposing that sort of restriction on millions of people is staggering," said Shilpi Agarwal, senior staff attorney and interim legal and policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

Can Businesses Stay Open During Curfew Hours?

Rules for businesses may vary under different curfew orders, so check you locality's website for specific information.

For example, under San Francisco's now-rescinded order, workers could come and go to their workplaces, but businesses couldn't remain open to the public, except for urgent care centers and pharmacies. Drivers delivering goods to essential businesses were also allowed to continue operations.

What is the Link Between Locking Down Entire Cities and Preventing Property Damage?

It depends on who you ask.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, with approval from SFPD Police Chief Bill Scott, issued a curfew order May 31, following reports of vandalism and destruction in San Francisco the previous night.

“It totally depleted our resources, and quite frankly we were overwhelmed,” Scott said during a Police Commission meeting June 3.

The city arrested 87 people for breaking curfew the first night of the order.

“By 10:30 Sunday night, the streets of San Francisco were extremely quiet, most San Franciscans adhered to the curfew, and [for] the people who were out to cause destruction and havoc, we were able to have a tool at our disposal to deal with that situation,” he said.

On the other hand, Agarwal called the curfew orders a “massive overreaction,” saying some California jurisdictions based their orders on few reports of illegal activity or incidents in neighboring cities.

“Historically ... [curfews] have been very extreme situations where public unrest and the ability to allow for public safety has been truly out of control,” Agarwal said. “And now, what we're seeing is not that. What we're seeing is the government's willingness to impose these drastic curfews and lockdown measures based on a fear of something that could happen, when it hasn't actually happened.”

Who Has the Authority to Impose a Curfew?

Across localities, the government entities that have announced curfew orders have varied. In some cases they have come from the sheriff's or mayor's offices or other officials, and other times it's been unclear to the public.

In Contra Costa County, for example, the Board of Supervisors voted to issue the county's curfew. But other Bay Area curfews have been issued prior to a local legislative body meeting or voting on it.

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"Part of the problem is it's hard to pinpoint how these decisions are getting made," Agarwal said. "It's been happening so rapidly. And no, it's not totally clear who the decision-maker is, what process was gone through, if there was any process to actually arrive at the decision."

Some experts are questioning the legality of the curfew orders, citing the vagueness doctrine in the Constitution, which requires criminal law to explicitly state what conduct is punishable.

"Independently of this moment in history, there are a lot of problems being introduced legally by these curfews and those vague and very broad ways in which they're being implemented, because they are leaving so much up to the police," Agarwal said.

Who Is Pushing Back Against Curfew Orders?

Civil liberties advocates, including a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, are pushing back against curfew orders imposed across the Bay Area.

"The exact problem that people are protesting is the level of power that we have given the police and how that is manifested against black and brown communities," Agarwal said. "Why do we think that giving police more discretion and more power will do anything but perpetuate that problem?"

A look back at the history of curfews in the U.S. shows they have been used to further suppress, surveil and criminalize people of color, specifically black people.

"Who's going to get overpoliced as a result of this? Well, we know historically and overwhelmingly it's going to be black and brown folks, and in this moment particularly, black communities are going to suffer from this level of suppression," Agarwal said.

As Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced the city's curfew order on Monday, she said it was necessary for safety after extensive property damage during protests over the weekend.

“With heavy hearts, we now believe that a curfew is necessary to protect our community, our residents and our businesses from further violence and vandalism,” Schaaf said. “We did not make this decision lightly, and we are mindful that a curfew is a serious tool that has been used by American governments as a tool of oppression and racial bias."

Now, some protesters are organizing demonstrations against the curfews, including a sit out against the curfew in Oakland on Wednesday at 8 p.m., organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project.

Can I Take Action If I Want the Curfew to End?

Yes. If you want to speak out against the curfews being issued, Agarwal says to call and email local lawmakers, as some of the curfew orders may be up for debate at upcoming meetings. She also said to contact your local representatives in state government. Find contact information for you local and state elected officials here.


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