Greensboro teen curfew passed, longer-term strategy discussed

by Eric Ginsburg

In a much-discussed move, Greensboro City Council passed a teen curfew at an emergency meeting on July 3 in reaction to a series of fights downtown. The “youth protection ordinance” is just part of the solution for dealing with teen violence, advocates said, and the city met with community leaders later that day to discuss long-term needs and solutions.

Several council members expressed support for making the curfew citywide, in part to communicate the changes more clearly and to avoid displacing but not eliminating the problem. Police Attorney Jim Clark acknowledged it was a possibility.

“You may, in fact, push them to another location, and I emphasize ‘may,’” he said.

Council voted 6-3 against making the curfew citywide, with at-large Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan, District 5 Councilman Tony Wilkins and at-large Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter voting yes.

District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small, the only member who voted against the curfew, said she was concerned by how rapidly it was being enacted and said it would send a message to teens that they aren’t wanted downtown. Bellamy-Small said in the past, black males in particular have felt targeted and excluded in the district.

“You can’t legislate parenting. You just can’t,” she said, emphasizing that the young people who were arrested aren’t representative of their age demographic and that most teenagers aren’t involved in fighting.

Wilkins said he shares many of her concerns but that it came down to putting public safety first. Abuzuaiter, who was downtown the night of the fight and said she talked to some of the teenagers there, said she takes major issue with the idea that the curfew is discriminatory. While she opposed the curfew in the past, Abuzuaiter said being present that night was “eye-opening” and “scary.”

George Hartzman, a mayoral candidate who spoke at the emergency meeting, said council was rushing to an ill-informed decision.

“I don’t believe you are in possession of enough information to make a decision that is not emotionally based,” he said. “Don’t penalize the rest of the kids in the entire city for something that was essentially an event where kids were invited downtown to enjoy downtown.”

Hartzman referred to the Saturday Night Lights program, a city-sponsored event the same night at nearby Festival Park that was geared towards teenagers. City officials said there was no correlation between older groups of teens fighting, starting at 11:30 p.m., and the mostly younger teenage crowd that attended the movie-screening program, which was scheduled from 7 to 11 p.m. Hartzman said it was highly likely that some of the people who were fighting were dropped off to attend the event and opted to hang out by Center City Park instead of watching The Amazing Spider-Man.

He brought up his concerns again at a city meeting with community leaders later the same day, but City Manager Denise Turner Roth said at the outset that the meeting was designed to talk about ways to proactively engage teenagers and not to debate the validity of the curfew.

Cyatta Siler, the mother of a 15-year old whose friends were among those arrested in the fight, said the issue stemmed from a killing at the GYC Carnival last year.

“High Point and Greensboro teenagers are having a beef because of the young man that was killed last year by people from High Point,” Siler said. “[The fights] happened everywhere else. Now that it’s downtown it’s an emergency or problem. It’s been going on for a long time.”

Siler suggested that the fights downtown may be more prominent because “important people live there,” and added that there were also fights between teenagers from different sides of Greensboro.

“This is real to them, and they have taken this on as their family,” police Capt. James Hinson said of directional sets, such as kids representing the north side of town. “This is really not a real gang. In [their] mind it is; in my mind it’s not.”

Hinson said teenagers gravitate towards such behavior because their lives lack guidance and said they were creating its own structure in its place, adding that the solution lies in relationships, trust and programs.

Several meeting attendees like the Rev. Steve Allen from Shiloh Baptist Church said a lack of jobs for young people contributed to a void in posi-tive engagement. Federal funding for summer jobs programs “deteriorated” years ago, Turner Roth said, but said she’d be interested in further discussion about job programs.

Some lamented that past programs, like teen events held at the Depot 25 years ago, fell by the wayside. Terence Muhammad, who came with the Beloved Community Center, said the Depot programs stopped after someone was stabbed. Like others, Muhammad asked what resources the city was willing to commit.

Mayor Robbie Perkins said he would like to see proactive solutions rather than just giving the police department more resources. Perkins agreed with community leaders like retired judge Lawrence McSwain that it would need to be a decades-long initiative, but the city didn’t make any commitments to any funding on the issue at last week’s meeting.

Many attendees talked about the need for more programming and grassroots-level outreach. Perkins was among several who admitted to being “generationally challenged” when it came to knowing what kind of events younger people would enjoy. People seemed to agree that teenagers in general, or youth leaders specifically, should be at the table.

Susan Feit, the director of the National Conference for Community and Justice who attended the emergency meeting, said she planned to hold two roundtable discussions about longterm solutions, including one meeting with youth leaders. Beloved Community Center community organizer Joe Frierson invited attendees to come to two community discussions with youth this Monday and Wednesday about what needs to be done.

McSwain cautioned against losing momentum or issuing a report that would gather dust, as has occasionally happened in the past, but others said the meeting was a big improvement.

“This is a big step we’re taking here today,” said Abdel Nuriddin, a former member of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission. “I can’t recall a discussion like this in [the] last 19 years.”

To make a solution possible, he said, the council and city manager need to be “solidly behind it” and that it will take a dedicated stream of income.

Perkins assured people that council is committed to a longer-term solution and said they know the issue won’t be solved in 60 days during the temporary curfew. While Councilman Zack Matheny said the curfew isn’t the only ingredient, he said it never should have lapsed and should probably be implemented permanently.

“The reality is at some point every year it’s talked about,” he said. “If we’re going to continue to talk about something and how it can be useful… then absolutely, you’ve got to consider [making it permanent]. Going back and forth doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.”

Matheny said he only heard from two people who opposed reinstating the curfew while many business owners and downtown residents support it. Nobody can deny there’s a problem downtown, he said, so his question to curfew opponents: What should the city do instead?