New Haven youth may soon face a stringent curfew, but first they will have the chance to voice their opinions to the city’s aldermen.
Members of the Board of Aldermen reaffirmed their commitment during a meeting on Wednesday night to engage the youth population and to take into account their views before deciding on the proposed curfew, which would apply to anyone under the age of 18 between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The meeting’s agenda called for brainstorming ways to get youth to attend two public hearings scheduled for Nov. 29 and Nov. 30. But after reaching a quick consensus on how to promote the hearings, the discussion — polite, though at times impatient — turned to the problem of ensuring that the city’s youth feel enfranchised and respected, whatever the outcome of the proposed ordinance.
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Members present at the meeting decided that announcements of the hearing will be aired on the Citizen’s TV channel, and aldermen will encourage local publications to promote the hearings in the days leading up to the events. In addition, the aldermen backed a proposed letter to high school principals asking for their help in increasing turnout, specifically requesting that they urge student body leaders to attend. Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez also suggested sending a similar letter to local clergy, who he said have the ears and the trust of a large number of teenagers in church and synagogue youth groups.
But he said he wasn’t too concerned about attendance.
“I don’t think we are going to have a problem attracting kids,” Perez said. “The word is out there.”
But while the word may be out, those present were more concerned that the facts might not be.
Brooke Crockett, manager of City Wide Youth Coalition, said her organization hopes to inform youth about the proposed curfew’s specifics so they can participate actively and intelligently at the hearing.
“We want to give them all the information they need to make their own decision on the curfew,” she said.
One of the misconceptions about the curfew, Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said, is that it is a new idea. In fact, it is already on the books, and the proposed amendment — called the Youth Protection Act — would enforce the provision, he said.
But more importantly, Shah said, he hopes the hearings will be clearly directed at soliciting the advice of the youth and that the meetings will not be hijacked by other agendas.
“It is their night — for their opinions to be expressed,” Shah said. “We cannot allow adults to interfere. If it’s anything else, it’s not going to go over.”
But Che Dawson, one of the community members present, said the hearings should be moderated by someone who could facilitate constructive discussion.
“Is there value in getting 100 kids to come and say ‘I don’t want the curfew?’” Dawson said.
Most of the aldermen expressed doubts that a curfew alone would solve the problem of youth violence, and the discussion focused on the effectiveness of possible alternatives. Shah and Ward 19 Alderwoman Alfreda Edwards both said no progress can be made without supportive social services as well, but that funding would have to be well directed.
Shah said that in the past, he received such support himself, and close intervention involving the participation of both children and parents is imperative. He said it is a disgrace that these types of programs are disappearing.
Edwards said the curfew, while unfortunate, would be meant to protect the youth population as a whole rather than to punish individuals. But she said the emphasis should be on solving the social problems, not just reacting to them.
“I’ve been a parent, and I know how difficult it is,” Edwards said. “We need more programs to keep kids busy, and we need support groups for mothers and fathers.”
Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05, who was not present at last night’s meeting, said the curfew should not arbitrarily apply to underage Yale students.
Like Edwards, he said a curfew could not help unless accompanied by more in-depth involvement on the part of the city.
“Curfews have been effective where there has been a commitment by the city and the community to provide resources to kids out without supervision, so when they are picked up, they can be brought to a place where their individual situations can be dealt with.” Shalek said.
The hearings on the curfew will be held at 6 p.m. at Hillhouse High School on Nov. 29 and Wilbur Cross High School on Nov. 30.