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Editorial: Snow curfews an abuse of power

Wilson County officials told residents to use their best judgment. But leaders in another eastern North Carolina county took that judgment away.

As a Deep South snowstorm blasted eastern North Carolina, Onslow County ordered people indoors and told them to stay off the roads after dark on Tuesday and Wednesday. The county commissioners’ chairman set a nighttime curfew for residents of Onslow’s unincorporated areas in a Tuesday proclamation.

Residents were confined to private property from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday and from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday. Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul Buchanan called the curfew "a matter of public safety.”

"It is essential for the citizens to be off the roads in order for the sheriff and deputies to be able to respond to calls for assistance and for overall safety,” Buchanan said in a statement. "The curfew will also prevent crimes of opportunity while our citizens are safe in their homes. Our emergency responders will be able to react and respond safely to minimize loss and maintain security and safety measures.”

Under state law, curfew violators are guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Penalties can range from a few days of community punishment to 60 days in jail depending on a convict’s past criminal record.

Concern for residents’ safety is understandable in a coastal North Carolina county more accustomed to tropical storms than snowstorms. But officials could have relied on education rather than intimidation.

State troopers, police and transportation engineers in Wilson County warned residents about the dangers of black ice and slush-caked roads, encouraging folks to avoid driving during and immediately following the storm. Motorists got the message.

Wilson saw only a handful of wrecks Tuesday and Wednesday, and most of those happened on Interstate 95, the primary north-south thoroughfare for the entire East Coast. On county and city roads, authorities responded to a couple minor crashes and tow trucks dislodged a few snowbound cars.

"We had some cars that we responded to in the ditch, and that’s time-consuming, but that’s been the extent of it,” said 1st Sgt. Tony Cameron of the N.C. Highway Patrol’s Wilson office. "We’ve been really lucky.”

Wilson County saw about a half-foot of snow, with measurements ranging from 5-8 inches. That’s roughly double the amount that fell in Onslow County.

Icy roads can be tricky to downright treacherous, but no one was killed or seriously hurt on the highways here. And Wilson County didn’t resort to orders and threats to keep motorists off the roads. Officials trusted residents to use their common sense.

Emergency curfews strike us as heavy-handed, unnecessary and altogether unacceptable in a free society. Government shouldn’t treat adult American citizens like children by taking away their personal choices and arbitrarily restricting their freedom of movement.

Individuals have a personal responsibility to keep themselves and their families safe. Add the natural incentive of self-preservation, and we believe that’s a responsibility most North Carolinians can handle on their own. It’s the height of arrogance for government to presume it has to keep us safe with paternalistic proclamations.

State lawmakers voted to let cities and counties set curfews when they passed the North Carolina Emergency Management Act of 1977, and unless that law is changed in the General Assembly or struck down by the courts, the option of shutting us away in our homes when disaster strikes will remain on the table.

We hope local leaders think twice before taking this untenable step. It belies a lack of confidence in — and a lack of respect for — the people who elected them to govern.

Wilson County handled this week’s snowstorm the right way, by making folks aware of the dangers and steering clear of personal travel decisions.
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@ michael and @emily et al said...

seat belt usage , motorcycle helmet usage, burn headlights when raining and speeding are laws you may not like , but break them enough times you will get caught and you will pay or you might dies or take someone else's life.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 at 8:35 PM
Baaaaa @ Michael said...

When you drove to Washington, did you wear your seat belt and obey the speed limit? Some "pinhead" came up with those laws too. You can choose to "live free or die" but please do not expect me to "pay" for your "freely" chosen stupid decisions.

Monday, February 03, 2014 at 6:17 PM
Michael said...

I can promise you that if any such curfew were ever issued in such a manner around here that I would be out and on the road the moment I heard about it. This is one law that should be overturned and overturned now. I don't need anyone anywhere telling me what is and is not safe where my well being is concerned. That's my choice to make and if you feel differently you're free to line up like sheep and wait for some pinhead to tell you what to do. As for free or die. Wake up people. I drove to Washington and back the day after that storm and had no trouble at all. If it had gotten bad I would have turned around. I didn't need someone making that call for me.

Friday, January 31, 2014 at 6:20 PM
@ emily et al said...

So if it gets foggy, or rains a lot, or traffic is too can be ordered confined to your home?
A snow storm, or hurricane is not they type of emergency to restrict our right to locomotion unless there is violence, looting, etc.
Just because it MIGHT happen is no reason.
Yes, the mayor of Atlanta messed up but so did the people that did not heed the weather forecast or the actual WHITE STUFF FALLING FROM THE SKY.
People have the right to be stupid and taking away my rights because people are stupid is not acceptable.

Friday, January 31, 2014 at 10:47 AM
the governor and emergency management said...

had already alerted citizens to stay off the toads except in dire necessary situations. the ice and sleet came in from the south and east and hit the coastal counties earlier.

Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:45 PM
people have criticised the governor said...

ahead of the impending storm and school systems erring on the part of caution in closing or letting school systems out early despite the snow and ice system being hindsight , with the disaster in Georgia and Alabama , standing motorists and school buses in icy road covered traffic jams it appears an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and the right decision was made. the mayor of Atlanta used his best judgment and it turned out to be a disaster. the Georgia governor should have stepped in and made the decision for the safety of all the citizens of the state. news media and arm chair quarterbacks should not second guess the decisions made deemed necessary for the safety of the people. maybe the Wilson Times should make the decision on a county by county basis in the next impending weather or any other kind of emergency instead of the elected officials and emergency management folks sine they seem to have their finger on the pulse of the citizenry.

Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:43 PM Emily said...

The weather conditions in Onslow County were totally different than what was in Wilson County. Most of what Wilson County had was pure snow. Here in Onslow we had about one inch of snow on top of 2 to 3 inches of ice. If a curfew had not been put in place people would have been driving on the ice and more wrecks would have occurred.

Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 7:33 PM Matt Denney said...

As an Onslow County resident, I thank you for this editorial. It cemented the thoughts I had in my head as my liberty was taken away for two nights. I hope this article encourages other affected Onslow residents to contact our Board of Commissioners as it did me. Thank you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 5:29 PM
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