Teens’ Curfew Message: Spend Time With Us, Instead

by Allan Appel | November 30, 2006 8:10 AM | | Comments (18)

Teens — and only teens — got to speak out about the proposed teen curfew at a government hearing, and speak out they did. Seventeen-year-old senior Sherrell Willis (pictured): “Curfew, curfew, curfew! All we hear from you [alders, adults] is curfew… Why do you think we shoot each other? To get attention… Parents need to understand no matter how their life is going: You made me, you need to spend time with me, no matter how tough your job is or how bad a day you had.”

If a curfew isn’t the answer, what is then? The voices of teenagers like Willis were seeking it, many eloquent, well-thought out, and even argumentative and challenging. They were among 40 or so teens who signed up and then lined up to step before the microphone to address the full Board of Aldermen assembled at Hillhouse High on Wednesday night for the first public hearing on the fractious proposed curfew for New Haven under-17-year olds. The curfew, first proposed in January by Dwight Alderwoman Joyce Chen, would last from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Some 200 people gathered at Hillhouse’s auditorium for the hearing that was restricted, per the instruction of Committee of The Whole Co-chairs Frances “Bitsie” Clark and Drew King, to remarks of under-20-year-olds: “We’re here to listen only and to ask for clarifications, not to argue with you. However, we want to know not only if you’re for or against the curfew, but what your ideas for solutions are for the larger problem of violence.”

The alders (nearly all of whom, such as Mordechai Sandman and Jorge Perez, were in attendance) got a three-hour earful, including, perhaps not so surprisingly, many kids’ unabashed calls for more parental involvement in their lives. Here, with the photographs of the young citizens who offered them, are some representative trenchant views from those who will be most affected:

“I’m really against the curfew,” said Akeem Antrum, a senior at Hillhouse High. “First, kids won’t abide by it. Kids get in fights all the time”

His friend and classmate at Hillhouse, Jakaya Crump, put it even more succinctly. “All a curfew will do is mean people will do their bad stuff in a shorter length of time. People are very capable of killing each other in broad daylight.”

“Kids need activities,” added Antrum. “When the Forest Theater closed down, we started having to go across the city, practically to a different state for movies, for bowling, for skating. And when the Q House shut down, in my view, that’s when crime started to go up. Give us activities and jobs. A curfew is not the answer to the problem.”

Sherrell Willis (the young woman pictured at the top of the article) said, “I’m against it. We need to get parents more involved… Say I’m out at 10:01, you’ll put me in jail, and then if that happens to a lot of kids, everyone will be in jail and nobody will be in school. What does that solve? No, we had a talent show here at Hillhouse, ‘Wildout Wednesday,’ and the principal shut it down. It was wrong. They didn’t give us a chance.

When east side Alderman Gerald Antunes asked Willis to elaborate on the role of parents, she said, “Yes, activities and parents. Parents need to understand no matter how their life is going: You made me, you need to spend time with me, no matter how tough your job is or how bad a day you had.”

“I’m definitely for the curfew,” said another speaker, Hillhouse senior Geraldine Robinson, who hopes to go to Yale. “Good kids will be at home. Bad ones are out. I strongly disagree with Akeem, who’s in my A.P. government class, and I’m not alone.”

“I’m completely against it,” said Tasha Williams, another Hillhouse senior. “It’ll just excite the cops to bother kids more. I see nine or ten cop cars bothering my friends who are just sitting on the stoop. That’s not right or fair. My solution is activities like basketball for the boys and double-dutch clubs maybe for the girls; I used to do that but it stopped being available when I was eleven.”

“I’m against the curfew, like Tasha said,” added Sheila Tucker, who’s going to Hampton College to be psychologist when she graduates from Hillhouse this year. “We need positive role models here. I think one thing to do is get the crooked cops off the street.”

Ronald Huggins, 14, and a participant in the City of New Haven’s Youth Council, brought up the closing down of Q House as a community marker for the tailspin into violence, and applause rippled through the audience (even though Bitsie Clark tried to gavel down the young audience). “And I want to ask you this. I talked to [Congresswoman] Rosa DeLauro, and she told me that $2 million of federal money went to New Haven for activities. I say to you, Where’s the money? I say take the money you want to spend on the curfew and support b-ball and a national drill team, and parents should also step up to the plate. Parents have to spend at least an hour a day with their kid, that’s all it takes, but it’s enough, just enough so the kid knows you care. Or kids can find an alderman even! Or another adult. Someone. That’s the answer too, not a curfew.”

“Personally, I don’t have a clear position on the curfew,” said Marlesha McClendon, a 15-year-old student at Hillhouse. “I agree about the Q House, but the problem really is with the younger kids. Older kids from the Hill or Tre are getting them involved in bad stuff early. Younger kids need dance clubs, and why not open a café that goes into the night and kids can go there and talk about poetry and express their feelings. That would really help.”

Felicia McBride, a senior at Cooperative Arts High School, again went back to parents: “More resources, yes, I agree, but it’s parents, because the issue is a lot more complex than people are talking about …Look at the mall where all those kids brought their problems. It’s not about a special place or a time, a curfew. We still have to take personal responsibility, each kid. It all begins at home.”

McBride’s colleague at Cooperative Arts High School, 17-year-old senior Jonathan White (in the picture with Sharay Salters), who hopes to major in theater at Howard University, was also against the curfew because in his view it also did not address the complexity of the issue. “We need to go to the root of the problem. Teens in New Haven fight over the dumbest things: You beat me, and I shoot you for that. Upping the ante until someone kids killed. It’s a mindset that has to be changed, and a curfew won’t do that. I asked one kid why he hated another kid, and his only answer was that he was from, you know, a different area. When I showed him how dumb that was, he understood. Sure, cafes and bowling alleys in the area are nice, but if you don’t get to the root, the mindset thing, then fights will happen in the bowling alley. I think we need forums, where kids talk to each other. And they should be led by young leaders in the city, not older people who are out of touch with things.”

And so it went., the alders listening hard, and the kids, some even quoting chapter and verse from the ordinance and challenging its wording, others quoting Police Chief Ortiz’s negative-leaning position on the curfew to bolster their own, some sparring with ordinance sponsors Michelle Sepulveda and Yusuf Shah, all very impressive.

“Regardless of the way it turns out,” said Jack Paulishen, Manuel Roman’s veteran civics teacher at Hillhouse (posing here on bended knee with Leslie Blatt to his right and Kayan Clarke, both teaching Roman and others under Paulisher’s supervision at Hillhouse through the Yale Teaching Institute), this hearing and everything leading up to it has been absolutely terrific for the kids. They are so involved. We’ve discussed the curfew at great length, and the kids are literally and really being heard. You know, what’s also impressive is that Hillhouse here is in the middle of the violence prone area, but this year has been remarkably good here at the school. In part because the kids see school as a haven from their tough neighborhood but also, and this is key, because the kids know they’re in the conversation.”

“Yeah, Mr. Paulishen,” Roman said, in remarks he later put to the committee of alders: “But I want to know how much the curfew program is going to cost. The exact amount, please. Because I think they should take the money and give us something back instead. Jobs for teenagers would be a good place to start.”

For more of these interchanges on the pros and cons of the curfew, the second public hearing dedicated exclusively to the views of under-twenty year olds, will be held tonight, Thursday, at Wilbur Cross High School at 6 p.m. Then two final hearings will ensue: Dec. 6 and 13 at the aldermanic chambers at City Hall. These are open to the general public.

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Posted by: pinkbicycle | November 30, 2006 8:36 AM

I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

Everybody's searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I lived as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

And if by chance, that special place
That you've been dreaming of
Leads you to a lonely place
Find your strength in love

Sung by Whitney Houston, originally by George Benson.

It is my hope that we hear children everywhere tell us what they need and We have the good grace to listen.

Posted by: Roland Lemar | November 30, 2006 8:38 AM

Great synopsis Allan! "eloquent, well-thought out, and even argumentative and challenging" hits the nail on the head. These students, whether for or against the proposed ordinance, came prepared to be taken seriously and voiced their opinions with depth and conviction - they should each be applauded for their commitment and willingness to speak out. Many of the public officials who are opposed to the ordinance, myself included, at least appreciate the opportunity this proposal gives us to be actively engaged in a dialogue with those who are most likely to offer the creative solutions that can combat the rise in youth violence that we have seen over the past few years.

I hope to hear more of their thoughts and concerns tonight at Wilbur Cross.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | November 30, 2006 11:49 AM

In other words, the kids agree that they are out of control and committing crimes on a regular basis, but they place the blame elsewhere. Fortunately, the liberal press is here to showcase their claims with the same sympathetic inclinations that have proved to undermine entire generations of American urban citizens by selling them a message of victim-hood and entitlement rather than looking with honestly at both the internal as well as the external societal and cultural pressures. These kids haven't just been sold out by "The Man" - they've been set up by their own "leaders" who regularly deal in corruption and crime, whether they work in a street corner or in the offices of CAA or Q House. Is that the legacy of leadership offered as an example to these kids?

In addition to better leaderships examples, these kids and their parents need employment opportunities and the training to take advantage of them so that they can have the option of actively participating in the local economy and feeling ownership of their neighborhoods. Connecticut cities like New Haven have been staggering for 30+ years under the loss of factory jobs with (then) middle class income for many families. More youth athletic programs would be great - the kids are asking, and it's got to cost less in the long term than the cost of police coverage. It doesn't take a Yale rocket scientist to observe that the teens were more trouble during the day over the summer when they had few options for spending there time. But wouldn't it be even better if they also had the option of being given jobs working around the city - in their neighborhoods - helping to fix the crumbling infrastructure that makes a blighted area, and earning money?

However, while long-term solutions to avoid the problem are important - who can argue with the call for more and better parenting in any community? - the reality on the street is that too many teens are involved in crime now and we need tools to help stop it now. A curfew may be one of those tools, and if so, we need to seriously consider making it available to law enforcement. It's not the "one" answer to a complex problem, but it may be one tool we need to consider along with many others.

Posted by: pinkbicycle | November 30, 2006 12:52 PM

I wish I was in the land of cotton! Gee are you saying this racist crap in Black face? How dare you. I am ashamed for you as a human being. I am also sad for your parents for raising you. But prayer is neede here and I will pray for you and your human short-comings.

Posted by: Critic | November 30, 2006 1:31 PM

I finaly figured out that NFJanette must be a kid - like the kids last night, all she can offer is critisim and "populist thoughts" without any actual idea on how to do anything productive. Saying "they need jobs and things to do" is like saying "I need to win the lottery and then I can afford a new house and car" Wishful thinking that everyone already knows - but now lets live in reality. Offer concrete ideas and proposals, like how the hell is the CIty supposed to pay for this (If I know NF Janette and others, you'll say something stupid and uninformed that shows that you have no idea how money is legally collected allocated and spent) You people are like children - full of ideas about what they want but have no idea about the work and cost that goes into acheiving them.

Posted by: Ken Krayeske | November 30, 2006 2:36 PM

The coolest 8 yr old in the world discusses youth and violence.
I'm trying to embed the video in the comments

if that doesn't work, just go here:

Posted by: Steve | November 30, 2006 7:25 PM

Parents need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the actions of their children!!

Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | November 30, 2006 7:28 PM

How About A Curfew On Xmas Shopping,What About The Adult Behavior, Who Fight Over SonyPS3 And Tickel Me ELMO Dolls,This Type Of Behavior Is Then Passed On To The Children. The Old Saying Goes, The Adults Are The Stallions And The
Children Are The Ponys. And Stallions Lead The Heard, Not The Ponys!!!

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | November 30, 2006 8:45 PM

If I know NF Janette and others, you'll say something stupid and uninformed that shows that you have no idea how money is legally collected allocated and spent

How telling that you choose to first indulge yourself in absurd guessing regarding my age (forties, if it matters) and then follow up with a sad attempt to insult an opposing view before it's even voiced. There is no point arguing with such people - and anonymous ones to boot - that take such an approach to discourse.

For those more rational tax payers (and adults) who wish to analyze the cost/benefit ratio of vocational and/or recreational programs vs. police protection, please take into consideration the number of officers required to cover a single "beat" 7x24 (at least 5, perhaps 7 or more) and the yearly cost of those positions over the two decades of service generally served. Having pointed that out, I'll once again say that in the short term, the police should be given whatever tools are required to fight the epidemic of violence that is attacking our city. If that includes a curfew, so be it - whether the outspoken teens like it or not. I look forward to them directing their energies toward keeping their friends from fighting and killing each other.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | November 30, 2006 8:48 PM

Gee are you saying this racist crap in Black face?

Now there's a new one: playing the race card when a minority community is held accountable. If only it weren't so predictable.

Posted by: MRSK | December 1, 2006 4:54 PM

I am curious, "CRITIC", with so many insults and jabs at "you people" for being so full of ideas but not of the work and cost needed to make them happen, what do you bring to the table? It is easy to accuse others of being useless but before you do so, I should hope you have a more plausable solution than what was last offered.
I agree, we need some concrete ideas and proposals, but have offered nothing more than the others have done before you and you still stood on your soapbox to admonish them. I think you need to have some answers to the tough questions before you demand that others answer them.

Posted by: pinkbicycle | December 1, 2006 6:00 PM

Hey NFJanette the DUMBASS card trumps the race card...everytime!

Posted by: bfair | December 2, 2006 11:42 AM

After reading the conversations I was left feeling, this is exactly how the kids get into useless and unproductive arguments and because they have guns that are funneling into the community by the carloads the fight turns into violent gunplay and loss of life.I have personally spoken with the police dept and the mayor's office about an initiative to begin prosecuting those who supply guns to the children and neither HEARD me just as they don't really hear the youth.If they don't come up with the solution they can't hear it. Just like they have money to pay for additional officers on the streets (to do what?) that same money could be utilized to do something constructive for the community. The kids are the REAL EXPERTS on what they need and what they don't need. Just listen to them and work toward providing what they need. They are smart enough to know that instituting a curfew will not deter the violence in any way.As one the children (the true experts) stated it will take a mindset change along with the diminshed access to guns that will bring significant change. A curfew will add to the agitation that already exists between the youth and the indifferent officers who patrol the streets with the latitude to harrass, intimidate and assault them with impunity (under the guise of protect and serve). Show our children what good role models you are. I guess Mayor Picard's brother must have had poor parents since he beat a man close to death on a ballfield in the presence of hundreds of youth because he couldn't get his way. Also the Hamden police officer who is charged with suplying guns to our kids in New Haven.By the way neither of these men came from the innercity. Different cities, different men, different resolutions. Solutions: accept the fact that we are all HUMAN BEINGS with HUMAN FRAILTIES which means we mess up, all people, all racial and ethnic groups. Take the time to listen to the needs of the people.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 2, 2006 10:45 PM

Hey NFJanette the DUMBASS card trumps the race card...everytime!

Can't argue with intellect like that - because there's none with which to argue. Here's a clue: various communities in New Haven are badly broken and need to be fixed. More jobs and rec programs are a part of the long term fix, but so is better parenting and community support. More law enforcement is a part of the short term fix, but it's too costly to rely upon for the long term. No one cares about the ethnic background of the criminals assaulting and robbing them - they just want it stopped.

Posted by: mc720 | December 3, 2006 12:26 AM

Speak on it, Bfair!!
Where do you think the word cop came from?
Drugs in the community were "copped" from the police...

Posted by: Marshall Cook | December 12, 2006 8:31 AM

I Disagree with the curfew issue.I feel thats its taking away from freedom.Here you have people in the US services fighting for our freedom in Iraq.Then back in the states you have it's being gradually taken because of violence. Violence is everywhere, a universal part of society. limiting time outside alienates alot of activities that elapse pass the time of 10pm.

Posted by: Lonnie Williams | December 12, 2006 8:41 AM

I am strongly against the curfew because I think it will not work it would just cause more conflict. I think they should provide more programs and activities for the youth in different communities instead of trying to keep us in the house. Also, they should keep the programs open and give them a chance for success because most of the time when a good program gets started, they end up closing it down and it leaves most of us with nothing to do because we look forward to going to them. It is something to occupy most of our time, so give these programs a chance because I curfew wont stop the violence.

Posted by: liveone | December 18, 2006 8:26 AM

I think that when it comes down to it the adults need to change their attitudes toward the youth. If they think that the youth is out of control then they need to help us and get to see who we really are, not all the youth is acting out its gets a small group of kids how is doing the fighting and shooting. The best way to change thing is to find the source of the problem and fixes it. Here in Connecticut the youth don’t have anything to do. We need more jobs, programs and more remodels to spend time and care about us not themselves. I know the youth is out of control but don’t down us help. We need more programs and jobs to keep the youth out of trouble. The best place to do the programs and other things is downtown it is where the bus line is so the kids can go home. If you need people to help with the programs get the youth and adult do not think people don’t want a change in New Haven. So help please make a different don’t give up on the youth.

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