Anti-Violence Pastor Wants Youth Curfew in Harlem
By Jeff Mays
HARLEM— In July, two teens were shot in the leg and back at 1:40 a.m. near Second Avenue and 122nd St.
George White, 15, was shot and killed while standing outside of his mother's Harlem apartment just before 11 p.m.
Cheyenne Baez, 17, was sitting in the courtyard of a East Harlem building at 1 a.m. when she was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting early Sunday. Police say she was an innocent bystander.
The Rev. Vernon Williams thinks all of these young people might have avoided injury or death if there were a citywide curfew for people under the age of 18. He wants three precincts in Harlem to be a test area for the idea.
"It's 11 p.m. Do you care where your child is? I do, because they are dying between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.," Williams said.
Shootings have been on the rise this year in all six of the police precincts that encompass Harlem. On any given weekend, large groups of teenagers can be found "mobbing" up and down the streets and avenues of Harlem. Williams has earned a reputation for going out and preventing fights and shootings.
"We've noticed that from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, kids are out going to parties and this is when the shootings and slayings are happening," said Williams. "The violence has gotten to the point where we have to think outside the box."
Among the changes he has seen is the willingness to shoot girls and that the most insignificant slight can just as easily lead to a shooting death as a fist fight. Williams has changed his tactics and now makes home visits if he thinks violence is imminent
"The idea now is that I'm going to go out and do something grimy today. The attitude is that I'm grimy and two-faced and having that reputation is cool," said Williams
Williams said he knows the idea of a curfew will be controversial.
"I know parents are going to say that police are going to use this as a way to stop and harass our kids but that's the point. Do you prefer that we do nothing and your kids die?" Williams said.
Nationwide, hundreds of cities have youth curfews. The law enforcement tool became increasingly popular in the 1990s as a way to deal with juvenile crime. A 1995 survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors of 347 cities with a population above 30,000 people found that 276 had evening curfews. In 2004, two New York City Republican council members introduced a bill to establish a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew that included fines for parents.
Under Williams' proposal, kids picked up after curfew would be taken to a downtown location where parents would have to pick them up before they are released. The goal is to make parents travel far enough where they are agitated and take control of their child's comings and going. Those kids who are not picked up by their parents would be turned over to social services.
The goal, said Williams, is to get those kids who have parental support off the street. Then authorities and community activists can focus on providing intensive social services for those kids that have no support system or are not able to be controlled by their parents, he said.
Williams says he talking to police and politicians about the idea now and is hoping for more input and support at a parent conference he's planning for February.
Jackie Rowe-Adams, one of the founders of Harlem Mothers SAVE, said a curfew is a good idea but that the politics behind getting a bill passed are unlikely. Rowe-Adams, who has lost two sons to gun violence, said she has pitched the idea of a curfew to state senators in the past.
"I went to some senators with the idea and they said: 'I dont know if I'll vote on that one with the community attitude toward police,'" said Rowe-Adams. "But maybe right now people are ready for anything because of all these shootings."
Instead of a curfew, Rowe-Adams said she has begun actively pushing the idea of increasing the mandatory minimum penalty for being caught with an illegal, loaded firearm to 7 years from 3 1/2 years.
"That should wake these kids up. It's the 14, 15 and 16 year olds out shooting each other because they are trying to get a rep and think they won't go to jail," said Rowe-Adams.
Gloria Cruz, Bronx chapter head of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence said she thinks a curfew is a good idea but believes that politically, it would never happen.
"I don't think there would be any support for it--from the parents. They would say our rights are being violated. My child's rights are being violated," said Cruz.
Instead, Cruz said, more parents need to be out patrolling the streets with Williams.
"What sane parent allows their 14-year-old to be out in the street at 1, 2 a.m.? My son is 16 and if he's not home by 9 or 10 p.m., there's going to be a problem," said Cruz. "If we don't have a curfew at our own homes or monitor or own children, then who will?"
Despite the longshot that a curfew is, Williams says it is at least a topic worth exploring.
"My argument will not change. If our kids are not out at these hours, they would not be dead.