The Fayetteville City Council’s decision Tuesday evening to further discuss a youth curfew has generated strong reactions from both council members and the public.
The ordinance was put forward by Police Chief Kemberle Braden in the wake of recent gun violence in the city that includes shootings involving minors as perpetrators or victims. It also comes on the heels of 30 car thefts involving youth offenders.
According to the draft ordinance, anyone younger than 18 would be prohibited from being in public in the city limits between 1 and 5 a.m. on weekends and midnight and 5 a.m. on weekdays. Braden said his proposal copies the youth curfew ordinance in force in Cumberland County, so as to avoid confusion.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Braden repeatedly referred to the ordinance as a “tool” to add to the city’s efforts to reduce the uptick in youth crime.
“I understand that this is not going to be one tool that fixes all of the crime problems as they relate to juveniles within our community,” he said. “But it is a tool that would give us access to inquire as to what these kids are doing when they're out at 1 in the morning, out at 2 in the morning, walking some of these apartment complexes, these neighborhoods that have been plagued with some of these crimes.”
Council members Mario Benavente and Deno Hondros were adamantly opposed to the ordinance in its current state, and they both voted against adding it as a discussion item for Monday’s council meeting. It eventually was added to Monday’s agenda by a 7-2 vote, with Mayor Mitch Colvin not voting.
Hondros said the ordinance has the potential to escalate situations between juveniles and police officers. He said constituents reached out to him voicing concerns about the ordinance and that he himself sees it as a threat to the civil liberties of Fayetteville youths. He went so far as to compare it to policies of authoritarian states.
“The officer comes up, and it's like you're asking for papers, license, registration, and then, ‘Why are you out — because you're not 18?’” Hondros said. “So, what, am I going to have a letter from my mother or my employer saying, ‘Well, he has a job, so he could be out?’ It sounds like communist Russia or Nazi Germany to me. It’s just crazy.”
Benavente expressed concerned about the ordinance’s potential for law enforcement misuse.
“My greatest concern is that you’re going to use this as a chance to stop and frisk anyone who looks underage,” Benavente said.
Council member Courtney Banks-McLaughlin said she lost her daughter to gun violence and that she supports the ordinance as “one tool” to reduce the youth crime rate.
“We may face some hiccups, but it's a start,” Banks-McLaughlin said. “As a mother who lost a daughter, ... I wouldn't wish this on anybody. And if it takes 10 kids to sit inside DSS, I would rather see that than to see a parent have to bury their children, I promise.”
Council member Shakeyla Ingram said she also has been personally affected by gun violence and thus supports the measure.
“I don't want to see more people be impacted by the gun violence and the murders,” Ingram said. “We saw a 12-year-old in the company of adults murdered by retaliatory gun violence.”
Council member Kathy Jensen said she supports the measure for its life-saving potential during a time when kids have increased chances of being firearm victims.
“As a mom that raised four boys, I will say to you, raising a young man in any city in any place in the United States in 2014 is a completely different ballgame than it is in 2023,” Jensen said. “And as a mom, I do not see how I cannot support this.”
Council member Brenda McNair said she had spoken with constituents about the ordinance, and some had concerns about child safety. She suggested the council hold a community forum about the issue before passing the ordinance.
“When we ran our campaign, it was to listen to our citizens,” McNair said.
Council member D.J. Haire said he had sent 50 emails to constituents asking for their thoughts on the ordinance. He said most of the responses he received were positive, and he believed a pilot program to test the ordinance could be beneficial.
“Not one tool in our toolbox is going to fix everything,” Haire said.
Council member Derrick Thompson said it is important for the council to take any action to address youth crime.
“For all those who have doubts or concerns or second thoughts, just take note that if nothing changes, nothing changes,” Thompson said. “So we need to do something to make sure we're keeping our youth protected and crime free.”
Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins facilitated the discussion and did not make any comments about the ordinance. He voted in favor of adding it as a matter of discussion at Monday’s council meeting.
Mayor Colvin left the meeting because of a family emergency before the ordinance was discussed.
Here’s what CityView readers had to say about the ordinance in messages sent to firstname.lastname@example.org:
When we see young people out late at night, it can appear so obvious that they would be better off at home. Unfortunately, that is not a reality that can be taken for granted. In many instances home is not safe. Whether due to addiction, neglect or abuse, for some young people, the risks from a night on the street weigh less than the dangers at home. Any efforts to institute a curfew for young people must take this reality into consideration. While I'm certain that we all broadly agree that wandering the streets at midnight is no place for a young teenager, without providing alternative safe places for those young people to go, I cannot see how in good conscience we can criminalize their presence in the absence of any other wrongdoing. - Gerard
I think the curfew would be helpful. If a kid knows he shouldn’t be out after 1 a.m., then he should not be on the streets. He should be home sleeping for class the next day. Too much is happening in the early hours of the day while people are sleeping. Yes, we have had curfew before and it was not a big issue. What happened then? - Patricia
I think it's a bad idea, as officers are not gentle with adults. Now they are going to pick up kids. All I see is a child cursing them out, then running. Now the officer: big mad. Now, shots fired, shots fired? Next line, ‘I thought they had a gun.’ Also, now it opens the door to stop and question anyone as we all look about the same age up or down. Not to mention once kids hit the child system, those agencies will not give your child back. All of this will bring anger and mistrust toward the police and City Council, as well as burden struggling single parents with loss of work and court dates and fines. It will destroy the little bit of family that is left. It's a big no for me. - Erica
Cumberland County has had a Youth Protection Ordinance since the 1990s and while it is a tool rarely used by the Sheriff's Office to its fullest extent, i.e., charging parents for their kids' violations, it is highly effective in getting kids off the street at night. DSS involvement with kids who break curfew is essentially nonexistent. When the county enacted the ordinance, the population served by the Sheriff's Office was greater than the city, as this was years prior to the Big Bang Annexation. And while these identical discussions were had at the time by the county commissioners, none of the problems ever forecasted by the naysayers occurred. - John
Ample court decisions question the constitutionality of curfews. Numerous studies show no correlation between curfews and lowering crime. A bigger concern of the council and chief of police should be filling the ranks with highly trained officers and enforcing all existing laws and ordinances, including federal, in order to make it difficult for perpetrators to plan, coordinate and do crimes. - Timothy
The council will continue discussing the ordinance at its next regular meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday.
Cumberland County has a youth curfew on the county level (not within town limits) that has been in place since 2015. Braden said the proposed ordinance copies the youth curfew ordinance for Cumberland Count to avoid confusion.
How it would work; what it says
A curfew applicable to juveniles or minors is established and shall be enforced as follows:
Accompanied by his/her parent or guardian.
Upon receipt of the application, the chief of police or his designee may issue a written permit for the juvenile's or minor's use of the public place at such hours as, in the opinion of the chief of police, may be reasonable, necessary, and consistent with the purpose of this article.
It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection 17-34(B)(4) that the owner, operator, or employee of an establishment promptly notified law enforcement officers that a juvenile or minor was present on the premises of the establishment during the restricted hours and refused to leave.
Contact Evey Weisblat at email@example.com.