GETTING TOUGH ON LOITERING….The last time I checked in on British attempts to keep teenagers from loitering where they aren’t wanted, authorities were dispersing them by playing classical music (“The most effective deterrents, according to a spokesman for Transport for London, are anything sung by Pavarotti or written by Mozart”). Apparently things have gotten a little more hard-nosed since then:
Jordan Webb can predict the exact time of day his head will start aching. If the 10-year-old lingers outside the Reynolds grocery store past 5 p.m., a small black device latched onto the storefront and operated on a timer will emit a high-pitched sound that makes the boy’s skull feel like it’s popping.
….Jordan is referring to the Mosquito, a $975 transmitter designed to disperse young loiterers by making a loud humming noise that most people older than 25, such as his 41-year-old mother, can’t hear. The Mosquito has sparked a new sort of buzz in Britain, this time among political and civil rights groups that say the device is discriminatory and treats young people as second-class citizens.
….On a recent sunny afternoon in this historic town near Oxford, Jordan was kicking a soccer ball outside Reynolds with four other boys his age, all wearing red Manchester United jerseys. At 5 p.m., right on schedule, the grocery store’s Mosquito began squealing. Jordan said he felt a painful “scratch” in his ear, and he hustled across the road to get out of the machine’s 50-foot range.
Put aside the civil rights question for a moment. Why is this even legal? If Reynolds were transmitting an 85-decibel screech in normal frequencies that extended 50 feet into public space, it would be plainly illegal, wouldn’t it? It would be one thing if it were limited to their store, but surely private property owners aren’t allowed to transmit irritating sounds in a 50-foot radius outside their own property, are they? How can this possibly be lawful?