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Curfews a regular tool used by local governments, but have complicated history

States and cities have used curfews for decades, but their history in the U.S. is a little complicated

People in Hillsborough County are settling into their new routine of being back in their homes by 9 p.m. each night after county leaders enacted a nightly curfew to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Curfews are nothing new and are used fairly often, but in these uncertain times, there are some useful things to know. 

One of the big things to note is that state and local governments have more power to issue curfews than the federal government. That's because police powers are mainly reserved for states, cities and counties. So, it would be difficult for the federal government to enact a nationwide curfew. 

Hillsborough County's curfew is under what's known as an "emergency curfew." These are used most often during natural disasters, like hurricanes or blizzards, and during times of civil or political unrest. 

RELATED: Hillsborough County curfew now in effect as leaders consider mandatory masks

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Curfews were put in place during the unrest that followed the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and during protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle. 

Emergency curfews are meant to help keep people safe and protect civil order, but they have a complicated history in the U.S. 

Many curfews throughout history have been tied to racial unrest. Most notably during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s, but also during World War II. Curfews were placed on Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast, as well as all German, Italian and Japanese citizens living in the U.S. during the war. 

Another type of curfew, which has been widely used across the country, is juvenile or youth curfews. These are meant to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble at night, but they have also been a source of controversy. Parents and activists have sued municipalities over their specific juvenile curfews, with some cases even reaching the Supreme Court.

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