Who is Halloween for? In some cities throughout the country, there is a statutory response. Different municipalities have regulations that actually prohibit teenagers from being cheated or treated, with penalties including fines, police reprimands, or in places of potential imprisonment. As far as I can tell, implementation reports are essentially non-existent. But in an age of heightened awareness of the dangers of over-policing, Halloween regulations have attracted fresh reactions. Chesapeake, Virginia, has used jail for over 1
Belleville, Illinois, bans teenagers from practicing tricks or treatments since 2008, with no plans to back down. Belville, just off the Mississippi River from St. Louis, is the home of St. Clair County and the most populous city in Southern Illinois. This is also the city where the company, now called Jelly Belly Candy Co. – which helped promote corn candy – was founded in 1869. Mark Eckert, Mayor of Belleville, signed an ordinance in 2008 prohibiting anyone over the age of 12 from lying or -treating. Specifically, the ordinance prohibits "seeking or receiving gifts, food, candy or cash contributions, as is commonly and commonly known as a" trick or treat "in celebration of Halloween." (An exception is made for older children with disabilities accompanied by tutors.)
Since then, Eckert has become the "poster boy for Halloween ordinances," as a Belville reporter put it several years after the ordinance was passed. Eckert called me from his office on Friday as he was preparing to host a household of all ages before Halloween on the main street in Beville, with hyrids, costumes and grilled hot dogs. This conversation has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Ruth Graham: Can you start by telling me about your own deceptive or healing experiences as a child?
Mark Eckert: I grew up here in Belleville all my life. I am 63 years old, in January I will turn 64. Come December, I will be mayor 15 years in the city. My father was a 25-year-old police officer in Belleville. When we went for a scam or treatment, we went out with my family or my big brother, who was seven years older, and they told us what time to be home. But when we should be probably younger, our father said, "You're too old to be scammed or treated." The parents made those decisions then, Ruth. And you didn't have to worry
What started happening in Belleville was that we saw and heard from a lot of seniors, in particular, that big kids – kids in high school – kids came out the door at 10 o'clock at night and the elderly were afraid to open the door and were afraid if they did not open the door that something would happen to their house. And in the same way, I had a conversation with a number of young single mothers who said, "Mr. Eckert, Halloween is scaring us because there are so many kids coming in late at night. "
Unfortunately, throughout the country and in this region, you have had several situations where not only do the big kids come with trick or treating, sometimes forcing the door to open. Someone knocks on the door and says, "Hi, who's there?" And then, if it's an adult, it doesn't take much to push them.
In fact, were there any incidents where the children were doing something harmful, or was it just a feeling that they could?
I would say that we probably had a few calls that added to the encouragement for me to continue the ordinance. We talk to the police chief and I daily. And we had several situations in those years where seniors called the police because they felt very threatened by the large number of children who were on their front porch and in some cases became very aggressive. They seemed to feel as if they were making their way into their home. People watch the news and see things all over the country. I'm only 63, but there are some nights I want to go to bed at 9 o'clock.
In fact, the adults were waking up in bed and did not know if they should answer the door or not. I cannot say that we have had any particular bad situations that prompted me to speak with the aldermen at this time and move this ordinance forward.
How did Belleville change himself as a child?
We're certainly bigger than I was when I was a kid, [Belleville’s population is more than 40,000] today. When I was a kid we were probably about 30 32,000. So we were raised. But in fact, life has changed Today all over the country, really and truly, where can you sleep with the doors unlocked?
I'll be honest with you, OK. I was married, the first time was in 1976. My ex-wife and I divorced in 1981 or & 82; at the time, my son, now 41, is my oldest son is in Afghanistan, as we speak, he is a traumatologist in the army. My oldest, he was one of the first children in his school to divorce his parents in the 1980s. My opinion is, you know that all the children had two parents and people looked out for their neighbors.
When I was a kid, if you acted before you went home, your parents probably knew about it because neighbors were whistling down the street or getting on the phone and telling them. It was close to the neighborhood and many of them changed everywhere. The type of world we live in today, people open their garage doors, get in, close it, not even talk to their neighbors.
What do you say to people who say, "Well, teenagers should not be cheated or treated, but this is a problem for their parents." Why should the government participate?
Unfortunately, sometimes when parents are not acting, unfortunately when government police departments sometimes have to act over the years. And I don't like it, but kids need to know that they can't just run amok. That's why we have a cop. That's why they can't run around all night. Some parents today will argue with our police chief or our senior police officers when they call and say, "We got your kids, get off at the station. It's two in the morning and your 14-year-old children and the neighboring children are running down the streets, you have to come and pick them up. "[Parents say,]" Well, there's nothing wrong with being outside. "Yes, yes, yes. They are still children. They are not adults. And being on the street at two in the morning – which doesn't happen all the time, but it happens.
So sometimes we have to make these decisions for parents who are not parents, maybe they are not alone at home, maybe the children are raising themselves. This is unfortunate, but in today's world, sometimes the government has to make difficult decisions like this.
Was it challenging to work out the language for the regulation? I just think I need to define trick or treating in legal language. How did you do it?
We talked to a lot of teachers. We talked to the law enforcement agencies. We talked to some parents. We talked to many different people. Was there anything scientific about this? No. Our directors also gave us their input. Our city treasurer at the time was my high school principal when I was a kid and he was very much for it. He simply said, "It's time to take some leadership and some action to make sure the whole population doesn't take on this particular Halloween event and start feeling like they need to leave town for the evening because they feel intimidated . "
What are the consequences if the police see the teenagers cheating or treating them?
We had no major problem. The police had to tell several children, "Hey, if you didn't know, there's an ordinance." We publish it in our quarterly newsletter. I meet with school principals and leaders every year. I have annual meetings where we update them and remind them: "Just tell the kids, remind them in their messages that they are not allowed to cheat or heal after a certain age." There are parties for high school kids and various other functions.
What do teenagers do for Halloween in Belleville?
There are different gatherings in schools. They have dances, some of them, and they have different functions. Kids have lots of house parties. The church group has various choirs and weed dances.
I think these are the things that high school kids have to go to. Like I said, maybe that's the way our city is, but we're trying, we're trying hard. We try to feel safe in your neighborhood and the family values some of us grew up with a long time ago.