Youth Teem With Counterproposals to Curfew

by Melissa Bailey | December 1, 2006 8:09 AM | | Comments (2)

“Where are we getting the materials to kill one another? It’s coming from parental negligence,” said aspiring Supreme Court justice Jermaine Brookshire (pictured), one of a battery of teen leaders who gave eloquent rebuttals of a proposed youth curfew at a second teen-only hearing Thursday night.

Thursday’s hearing at Wilbur Cross High School was the second of two opportunities for youth to speak out against aldermen’s proposed “Youth Protection Policy” that would impose a curfew on kids 17 and younger from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The crowd was smaller than at Wednesday’s hearing, closer to 100 people than 200, but the fundamental message — no curfew! — rang out the same. About 20 students addressed a nearly full board of alderman sitting at a long row of tables across the theater stage. Teens shifted the focus from the curfew to parents and the need for safe activities.

“There’s no role models any more,” said Brookshire, seeking to answer why kids turn so easily to guns and to the street. “It’s just coming from the parents not sitting down with their children. I don’t know if it’s they’re afraid of their children, or they just don’t care.”

Brookshire, wearing a shirt and tie, ended with confidence: “I plan to be a Supreme Court justice.” He was joined by strong teen leaders ready to not only shoot down the curfew proposal, but to get involved with finding a solution to the boredom and violence plaguing their ‘hoods.

Sahib Hobby (pictured, conferring with Dixwell Alderman Drew King after the hearing) stepped up to the mike with reasoned complaints, and left collecting business cards from aldermen.

Hobby set out saying adults and politicians label kids as “bad” and don’t listen. Instead of throwing down a curfew, “talk in a positive way to us and about us. … Having that love and that friendship that you don’t get at home is why kids are out here on the street.”

Instead of community centers or youth programs, Hobby said he wanted a place to hang out, a place like the defunct Chapel Square Mall.

“We don’t have a downtown,” he said. “There’s no longer a mall … we have to go to Milford where I feel like they don’t want us.”

Westville Alderwoman Ina Silverman made a proposition: Get together with other students and create a business plan to build something that would replace the void left by the mall.

“That’s the first time someone said [something like that] to me. … Are you going to back us up on that? Are you going to listen?”

Gladly, said Silverman.

“I think I’ll do that. Can I have your card?” Hobby said, walking across the stage.

Aldermen welcomed the chance for direct discussion with bright, determined leaders. “It gave us the chance to have input from people we’d never otherwise meet,” said Alderman Roland Lemar.

Some had direct proposals: “The Hill Cooperative [Youth Services] building, what happened to that? That’s a space that we can go, and y’a’ not using it,” said Alisha DeLeon, who was active in the Hill Youth Action Team this summer. “Let us up in there!”

Others were itching to innovate.

“Just give us a little money, and see what we can come up with. Give us a chance, an opportunity,” said Katherine Galo, a student at Cross. Katherine argued kids should be allowed to be proactive, not punished by being sent home. “We are not the kids shooting people … We’re the ones who are doing good at school and are going to pay for the kids who really don’t care about their future.”

A couple students simply called the curfew unfair.

“I’m a good child to my mother,” argued Miya Brooks, 16. After being productive at Youth Rights Media, then going home to do homework, she said she needs to have time to “chillax” at friends’ houses, on the porch or “singing or dancing in the street.”

These members of the Board of Young Adult Police Commissioners had a more restrictive approach. Enact the curfew “only as a last resort,” recommended Emmanuel Colon, 17 (pictured at left, with Nathan Donha). If the curfew is enacted, appoint 10 truancy officers, one per policing district, during the curfew hours, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The officers would operate “in the same manner as they do in school,” just out on the street.

Colon and crew suggested giving kids three warnings for breaking curfew. Then a DCF worker would be informed, and go to the teenager’s home to see why the child was outside. They also wanted to see community centers built in Fair Haven and in the field in front of Career High School.

Laura Visochek, 17, of Cross, suggested kids be exposed to cops at a young age, through sports, so the two could develop less adversarial relationships. Another suggested subsidized daycare for young parents to encourage more attention at home. A third suggested stricter gun laws.

Sarah Derbala, 16, stood with a small minority in support of the curfew. “We have brothers and sisters, and they look up to us. When they grow up, they’re gonna want to do what we do,” she argued. Plus, “Why risk your life in the streets? You supposed to be rested. … You should be prepared to go to school.”

Danielle Jarrett, 16, gave a critique on national priorities (funding the war in Iraq and prisons instead of the Q House and schools) that rolled into chanted fury. “Teens are going to rebel, hello! We’re gonna be bad sometimes. What you going to do? Why should we be badgered. Why? Why?”

Downtown Alderwoman Bitsie Clark agreed with her point that the students who came to the hearing that night weren’t the ones shooting people. “I think we’re all puzzled and concerned and worried, as you are, about how to reach them.”

“If you’re sitting behind a desk in a school, how are you going to reach anyone but the good kids?” replied Jarrett. “I know you made a big step by coming here, but you need to make a bigger step by going out there” to reach the kids on the streets.

Rollesscia Hurd (pictured) ended the hearing with a reflection on “awareness.” The rates of HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy have been improved through awareness and sex ed, she argued. So why not tackle teen crime through gun and violence awareness?

Pierette Silverman, who recently took the helm of the Mayor’s Youth Initiative and took notes in the audience, applauded Hurd’s point. To stop fighting, kids need to learn “empathy,” she said.

After the hearing, Hurd was already thinking ahead to the next chance to continue what has been a focused, serious discussion on the most pressing issue in town. She wants to lobby for more youth programming, and delve deeper past the “surface issues” surrounding the curfew. “We’re going to have to get more organized on December 6.”

Two final public hearings, open to adults as well as to youth, will be held in aldermanic chambers on Dec. 6 and Dec. 13, both at 6 p.m.

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Posted by: Bitsie Clark | December 1, 2006 9:28 AM

Congratulations to the New Haven Independent for the outstanding articles by Allan Appel and Melissa Bailey about the two nights of Youth Hearings on the proposed Youth Curfew. The reporting was accurate, lively and comprehensive and conveyed the intellegent, thoughtful and very cogent testimony of the students. All of the Young people on both nights have given the Board of Aldermen much to think about.

Posted by: Esbe [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 1, 2006 10:17 AM

Wow, if these kids are the future of New Haven, then we are in better shape than I thought.

Given that the problem at hand involves a sky-rocketing youth murder rate, I can't say I am much impressed with the argument that roughly runs "hello, kids are going to be bad sometimes, what are you going to do?". But that girl probably correctly feels that there is no reason to hassle her, this group is not the problem.

What more could we want: smart and outgoing kids who want to make a difference. Imagine if the city could harness that energy and talent. Now they, and we, need some real resources to work with. Put these kids out front and then I think that private fund-raising could add a considerable sum, working with city and state money to create a real alternative.

To Bitsie Clark: love your work (seriously). Now, who is in charge of the follow-up?

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