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Sonic Screen is age discrimination, one opponent says

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News Hastings,Minnesota 55033
Hastings Star Gazette
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Sonic Screen is age discrimination, one opponent says
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

The Hastings Parks and Recreation Department has attracted considerable attention since it began considering including Sonic Screen, an age targeted device to deter teen loitering, at Cari Park. But not everyone is looking forward to its installation.


Sonic Screen technology emits a high-frequency noise that only teens can hear, according to its proponents. According to the proposals reviewed by the Hastings Parks and Recreation Commission, it would be activated by motion sensors when the park is closed in order to deter loiterers who, in the past, have done considerable damage and vandalism to the play structures there.

Dave Moss, director of development and operations at the National Youth Rights Association in Washington, D.C., spoke out Monday morning against installing Sonic Screen. Moss addressed a letter to Barry Bernstein, director of Hastings Parks and Recreation, claiming the technology would be a form of age discrimination and encouraging the city to drop the idea. Moss also sent the letter to Hastings' mayor and city council members as well as media outlets that have reported on the technology. Moss's letter is copied here.

Dear Mr. Bernstein,

I read with dismay this morning that your department is considering installing a "SonicScreen" device with the purpose of preventing vandalism at Cari Park in Hastings. This device, and others with similar function, unabashedly discriminate on the basis of age. I do not mean to deter you from preventing vandalism in your community and appreciate that you're pursuing innovative methods - but discriminating against an entire group of people based on the actions of individuals is prejudicial and not the proper way to address issues like vandalism. Despite the actions of a select few, teenagers are not pests to be repelled. 

There is no evidence that these devices actually work to deter crime, nor has your department shown sufficient evidence that the culprits in this instance are, in fact, teenagers. Furthermore, the discriminatory device runs afoul of the spirit of Minnesota's Human Rights Law.

These devices lack precision and can effect a wide variety of innocents. In particular, autistic children and children with special hearing needs will be needlessly asaulted by this sonic weapon. Even though I am supposedly over the required age I can usually hear these devices. There is no guarantee that this device will deter any vandals while there is guarantee that countless citizens will be adversely affected. Should you choose to install this device it will be particularly egregious since you will be violating the civil rights of a group of people who had no say in the decision.

Last fall, my organization ran a successful campaign  to remove a similar device, this one called "the Mosquito," from the Gallery Place Metro Station in Washington, DC. Ultimately, the DC Office of Human Rights determined that the device was disciminatory and illegal. It is my hope that your office will make a just decision on this matter.

Katrina Styx
Katrina Styx has been a reporter for the Hastings Star Gazette since 2010. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in journalism from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. Prior to coming to Hastings, Katrina reported for weekly newspapers in Jordan, Minn., and River Falls, Wis.
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