Who is Halloween for? In some cities across the country there is a legally required answer. Several municipalities have enacted regulations prohibiting cheating or dealing with teenagers, including fines such as fines, referrals to the police and, in some places, possible prison sentences. Enforcement reports are, in my opinion, essentially not available. But in a time of increasing awareness of the dangers of over-monitoring, the Halloween regulations are taking on a new backlash. Chesapeake, Virginia, jailed all over 1
Belleville, Ill., Has banned cheating and treating teenagers since 2008, with no plans to back down. Belleville, just across from Saint Louis on the Mississippi, is the county seat of St. Clair County and the most populous city in southern Illinois. It is also the city where the company Jelly Belly Candy Co., which contributed to the popularization of sweetcorn, was founded in 1869. Mark Eckert, the mayor of Belleville, signed an ordinance in 2008 denying all over 12-year-olds the ban of trick-or-treatment. More specifically, the ordinance prohibits the search for or procuring of gifts, food, sweets, or cash donations, as is commonly and commonly known as "sweets or tears" on the occasion of Halloween Day. "(An exception applies to elderly disabled children in company from caregivers.)
Since then, Eckert has been "the poster boy for Halloween regulations," according to a Belleville reporter several years after the regulation was issued. Eckert called me from his office on Friday as he prepared to host a party for all ages before Halloween on Belleville's Main Street with hay waggons, costumes, and grilled hotdogs. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Ruth Graham: First, tell me about your own childhood trick-or-treating experience?
Mark Eckert: I grew up here in Belleville my whole life. I am 63 years old and 64 years old in January. In December, I will be the mayor of the city for 15 years. My father was a police officer in Belleville for 25 years. When we made sweets or treats, we went out with my family or my big brother, who was seven years older, and learned when we should be home. But when we were probably old, our dad said to us, "You are too old to try trick or treating." The parents then made those decisions, Ruth. And you did not have to worry.
What has changed?
What started in Belleville was that we mostly saw many seniors and heard that big kids – kids in high school – kids came to the door by 10pm and seniors were scared of opening the door and they were afraid if they did not open the door, something would happen to their house. I also had a conversation with some young single mothers who said, "Mr. Eckert, Halloween scares us because there are so many big kids coming late at night. "
Unfortunately, there were situations throughout the nation and this region where not only large children were tricked or kicked, but sometimes had to open the door. Someone opens the door and says, "Hello, who is there?"
Was there actually an incident in which children did something harmful, or was it just the feeling that they could?
I would say that we probably had a few phone calls that helped encourage me to proceed with the prescription. The police chief and I talk daily. And we've had some situations back in those years when senior citizens called the police because they felt very threatened by the large number of children who stood on their porch and in some cases became very aggressive. They seemed to feel that they were making their way home. People look at the news and see things across the country. And I'm only 63, but there are some nights when I want to go to bed at 9 o'clock.
Seniors were actually awakened in bed and did not know if they should open the door or not. I can not say that we were in a particularly bad situation, which led me to talk to the then councilors and push this regulation forward.
How has Belleville changed since you were a child?
We are certainly bigger than then, [Belleville’s population is more than 40,000] today. When I was a kid, we were probably around 30, 32,000. So we have grown. But basically, life has changed. Where can one truly and truly sleep with unlocked doors throughout the country today?
I'm honest with you, OK. I was married, the first time in 1976. My ex-wife and I divorced in 1981 or 1982, and at this time my son is now 41 years old – my eldest son is in Afghanistan. He is an accident surgeon in the Army. My oldest, he was one of the first children in his school to divorce her parents in the 1980s. My point is, you know, kids had all two parents and people watched their neighbors.
When I was a kid, your parents probably knew it when you stopped before you got home, because the neighbors whistled or talked on the street and told them. It was a neighborhood proximity, and much has changed. The kind of world we live in today, people open their garage door, drive in, close it, they do not even talk to their neighbors.
What do you say to people who say, "Okay, teens should not trick or treat, but that's a problem for their parents." Why should the government be involved?
Unfortunately, sometimes it happens that police departments in the government have had to act over the years when parents do not act. And I do not like that, but kids need to know that they can not just run amok. That's why we have a curfew. That's why they can not walk around all night. Some parents will argue today with our chief of police or our senior officers at the police station when they call them and say, "We have your kids, come down to the station. It's two o'clock in the morning and your fourteen-year-old kids and the neighborhood kids are running through the streets, you have to pick them up. "[Parents say,]" Well, there is nothing wrong with being outside. "Yes, yes there is. They are still children. They are not adults. And to be on the street at two o'clock in the morning – which does not happen all the time, but it happens.
Sometimes we have to make these decisions for parents who are not parents who may not be home or the children are raising themselves. It is regrettable, but in today's world we live in, the government sometimes has to make difficult decisions.
Was it a challenge to make the language for the decree? I'm just thinking about having to define trick-or-treating in legal language. How did you do that?
We talked to some educators. We talked to law enforcement. We talked to some parents. We spoke with many different people. Was there something scientific? No, our principals also gave us input. Our then city treasurer was my headmaster when I was a kid, and he was very much in favor. He just said, "It is time that we take the lead and take steps to ensure that the general public does not notice this special Halloween event and feels like they have to leave the city for the evening because they feel intimidated. "
What are the consequences if the police sees teens trick or treating?
We did not have a big problem. The police had to tell a few children, "Hey, if you did not know, there is a regulation." We publish them in our quarterly newsletter. I meet with principals and superintendents every year. I have annual meetings to bring them up to date, and I remind them, "Tell the children, remind them in your announcements that after a certain age, they can no longer enjoy sweets or tears." In high school, there are parties for children and there are several other functions.
What are teenagers doing for Halloween in Belleville now for fun?
The schools have different meetings. They have dances, some of them, and they have different functions. Children have many house parties. Church group have different heurit and barn dances.
I think those are the things high school kids should go to. As I said, it may be like our city, but we try, we try hard. We try to feel secure in your neighborhood and the family values that some of us grew up with long ago.