Despite lingering questions about its constitutionality and potential effectiveness, the Fayetteville City Council plans to continue considering a youth curfew ordinance.
The appetite for it, though, isn’t a hearty one.
The council’s decision to rethink the curfew Monday came three weeks after it was first proposed by Police Chief Kemberle Braden in the wake of recent shootings involving minors as perpetrators or victims, along with other juvenile crimes, such as car theft.
“I know that this will not be the solution to all of our violent and youthful crimes,” Braden said Monday, echoing his previous statements. “I know this is just a tool within the toolbox to address those issues. At the end of the day, it's nothing more than a proposal to council to discuss whether it is right for the city of Fayetteville.”
The ordinance, had it passed, would have prohibited anyone younger than 18 from being in public in the city limits between 1 and 5 a.m. on weekends and midnight and 5 a.m. on weekdays. Anyone under 16 would be further restricted from being in public between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. weekends and weekdays.
Christian Mosley, who spoke against the curfew at the Sept. 11 council meeting, said after Monday’s meeting he was not surprised by the council’s decision.
“It's more kicking the can down the road,” Mosley told CityView. “For the most part, it's kind of what I expected a little bit.”
At the same time, Mosley said he was glad the council “put a stop” to the curfew for now and expressed interest in pursuing support programs for at-risk youth that could serve a similar purpose.
“It's just good that they put a stop to it, at least to not criminalize youth,” Mosley said. “And they're going to come with a constructive solution that's going to involve many of the nonprofits that are already doing the work anyway.”
A youth curfew ordinance was debated by the City Council in 2014 after being put forward by former Mayor Nat Robertson, the Fayetteville Observer reported at the time. The council ultimately rejected that proposal after then-Police Chief Harold Medlock conducted a study that showed a youth curfew would not have a noticeable effect on reducing crime.
Nearly a decade later, a youth curfew has again been tentatively — though not definitively — rejected, even as the council signals a willingness to continue workshopping the idea. It was back on Aug. 28 when Braden initially mentioned it as a possibility during a special meeting convened to discuss the local gun violence epidemic amid a number of high profile incidents over the summer.
The City Council first publicly discussed the ordinance in a work session on Sept. 5. Council members questioned Braden extensively about aspects of the curfew before deciding to continue discussing it at its regular meeting the following week.
Surprising a large audience at that session on Sept. 11, Mayor Mitch Colvin announced that there would be no discussion — as was planned, based on the council’s agenda — of the curfew. Instead, he announced the matter would be debated at a special council meeting the following week. Colvin indicated then a public hearing on the issue would follow any decision to approve or reject a curfew ordinance, but that hasn’t been scheduled yet since the council plans to write a revised ordinance.
That brought the council to Monday’s meeting and two-hour discussion, when — with a 7-3 vote — the group voted to continue working on the ordinance, tweaking the notion of a curfew with an eye on multiple unresolved questions the draft ordinance generated.
The county’s curfew
Referenced at numerous times to defend the proposed city curfew, Cumberland County’s youth curfew is similar to the proposed city curfew, Braden said. The county’s curfew has been in effect since 1997, according to the county ordinance. It does not apply within the city limits of Fayetteville.
At Monday’s meeting, Braden said it was a misconception that the county doesn’t enforce its curfew.
“I can speak from personal experience that the county does enforce their curfew,” Braden said. “Why? Because I was awakened from my sleep one night at about 12 or 1 o’clock in the morning and told to come pick up my daughter, who was caught out loitering in the (public vehicular area) of a Food Lion with her other friends.”
Later, Councilman Mario Benavente questioned Braden about whether the county enforces its curfew; Benavente noted he had been told it has not been enforced. Braden denied that, adding that he had been told by a chief deputy within the Sheriff’s Office that the county does indeed enforce the curfew.
But Sgt. Mickey Locklear, public information officer for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed the county has not observed curfew violations in the past year.
“We have not come across any occurrences of these violations this year thus far,” Locklear told CityView by email. “However, we are prepared to enforce the curfew if we come across a violation.”
Locklear would not specifically address whether sheriff’s deputies regularly enforce the curfew, but when asked if the curfew had been effective at reducing juvenile crime or promoting overall public safety in the county, Locklear said there is not enough information to make that determination.
“There are not currently enough statistics to form an opinion on this question at the current time,” he said.
Benavente also raised concerns about a Sept. 14 letter to City Council members from the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. That letter, which Benevente shared on his Facebook page, was written by Liz Barber, the ACLU’s N.C. director of policy and advocacy. In it, she incorporates peer-reviewed studies and relevant court cases to describe policy implications of Braden’s ordinance.
The letter says that Fayetteville’s proposed ordinance “raises significant legal issues” for the city, potentially violating the constitutional rights of children and parents. It also touches on research that shows juvenile curfews don’t promote public safety, and that they disproportionately affect Black and brown kids — who are also more likely to be profiled by police, according to studies.
“(T)he ordinance will likely produce an increase in unnecessary and harmful police stops of young people and disproportionately burden Fayetteville’s Black and brown residents, including already-overburdened parents,” Barber wrote. “The proposed ordinance will undermine the rights of both juveniles and their parents or guardians, possibly in violation of the United States and North Carolina Constitutions.”
Lisette Rodriguez, an organizer with Common Cause North Carolina, said her organization's policy director put her in touch with the ACLU — which is how the organization ended up weighing in on the ordinance debate. Rodriguez told CityView she was disappointed that the letter did not get discussed until Benavente brought it up at the end of the meeting.
“The conversation was supposed to be about the curfew and not just one side and what the police want,” Rodriguez said. “So I was really disappointed that they didn't even talk about really any of the points that was in that letter.”
Benavente questioned why Braden had not included the constitutional concerns of the letter in his presentation to the City Council, during which he described the legal basis for a juvenile curfew as laid out in state statutes.
“It really does feel like you're cherry-picking data to get to a very specific outcome,” Benavente said.
Interim City Attorney Lachelle H. Pulliam answered on Braden's behalf, saying the case he cited was the only “binding case” for a juvenile curfew.
After more discussion, Benavente made a motion for the information from the ACLU to be presented to the council as part of ongoing discussions about the proposed curfew. The motion passed 8-2, with Councilman D.J. Haire and Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins voting against it.
The ordinance question isn’t dead, but based on Monday’s discussion it seems a number of things must be resolved before the council reconsiders it. The council plans to weigh its merits, consider myriad concerns, review the ACLU’s warnings and consider additional juvenile crime data that council members asked Braden to compile.
In addition, city officials plan to have discussions with local agencies to put support services and protocols in place for youths before a curfew is enacted, according to the motion passed Monday. There are also questions about, and for, the parents of the youngsters who are committing criminal acts in the wee hours of the morning.
“This is just the beginning phase of it,” Colvin said Monday of the curfew discussion. “I hope that as we continue to engage, we will reach out to partners, reach out to community members and continue to get things to bring back for consideration at our next opportunity.”
Contact Evey Weisblat at email@example.com or 216-527-3608.