Anxiety about teens

by YES! Staff

A disturbance by an unruly group of teenagers in downtown Greensboro on the Fourth of July predictably has some people calling for the reinstatement of the teen curfew. And it predictably has one city council member claiming that the initiative would not be “reactionary,” while obviously reacting to the event. As reported in the News & Record, police used tear gas to break up a crowd of about a thousand young people at Center City Park who were threatening to fight or engaging in fights — the report is not exactly clear on that point — at about 10:45 p.m. on July 4. The police arrested three young men, ages 17, 18 and 19, in connection with the incident. It’s interesting to note that three is exactly the number of people charged with violating the teen curfew before its sunset at the end of 2011. So let’s consider: Only one of the three people arrested would have been of age to fall under the curfew. And incident took place before the cutoff time of 11 p.m. And let’s remember that when a real problem occurred the police had no problem finding statutes — disturbing the peace and failing to disperse — to make arrests and effectively bring the situation under control. “It’s not a reactionary item,” District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny told the N&R in a July 7 story. “It’s come back up because it’s needed.” Well yes, but the fact that the statement was published three days after the incident in question suggests at least some degree of causation. Thankfully, Mayor Robbie Perkins posited a more sensible reaction based on resourcing and priorities rather than public perception. “You’ve got 1,000 people on the streets,” he said. “You’re not checking the IDs…. It becomes a function of where do you want the police department spending its time — working on a teen curfew or making sure patrons in downtown are safe?” And public perception was exactly what the curfew was about. It didn’t change the way the police did their jobs. So it was neither the crackdown on civil liberties that opponents feared nor the master stroke in public safety that supporters envisioned. It gave the city council and Matheny in particular the opportunity to look strong and proactive, and allowed Center Pointe owner Roy Carroll to market his condos to affluent, empty nesters by presenting downtown as having evolved beyond the club scene that brought it back from the edge of oblivion 10 years ago. Similar midsummer anxiety has arisen in Winston-Salem, where the Journal reported on June 28 that “for three consecutive Friday nights, a larger-than-usual crowd of teens and young adults” has gathered downtown. The timing is interesting, considering that the academic year generally ends around late May. Adding to the non-event approach of the story, the second paragraph informs readers that most of the teenagers were well behaved and no incidents were reported to the police on June 22. But two weeks earlier something did transpire: More than 170 young people gathered, a fight spilled into the Mellow Mushroom and police made an arrest and pepper-sprayed the crowd. Consider the circumstances: School’s out. Kids stay out later. Our cities are concentrating our resources on creating beautiful and vibrant downtowns. Like anyone else, kids want to be where the action is. YES! Weekly chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration .