New Haven high school students strongly denounced a proposed curfew on minors at a Board of Aldermen committee meeting on Wednesday night.
Students from around the city instead advocated increasing funding for extracurricular programs, building new youth-oriented community centers, and instituting alternative methods such as gun buyback programs to prevent youth violence. City leaders limited testimony about the curfew proposal, which would require anyone under 18 to be off city streets between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., to New Haven youth under the age of 20. The curfew regulation has technically been on the books for years, but the current amendment would require the New Haven Police Department to enforce the ordinance.
If the packed auditorium at Hillhouse High School is any indication, the city’s youth intend to play a significant role in discussion about the proposal. Lines of students waited to voice their opinions and present alternative solutions to help curb city violence. Stephen Hardy, a senior at Hillhouse, said he wanted the city to institute a gun buyback program, where residents in possession of firearms can return them to police without facing repercussions.
“I don’t think [the curfew] is necessary,” Hardy said. “I personally believe it’s an infringement on our rights. If they really want to find a way to lessen the gun violence, what they should do is have a day that people can give their guns back to the police with no questions asked.”
Students at the meeting echoed a wave of growing skepticism of the curfew among some city officials. On Wednesday, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. came out against the proposed amendment, voicing concerns about its effectiveness.
“He is skeptical that it is the right way to curb violence,” mayoral spokesman Derek Slap said. “Adding more police, giving kids positive choices, making strides to close the achievement gap and aggressively going after the teens who still don’t get it will ultimately make the difference.”
Nearly every student at the committee hearing was against proposal, although they all agreed that something had to be done to reduce city violence.
Students such as 17-year-old Manuel Roman were particularly concerned with the logistics of the curfew’s enforcement and the effectiveness of what he called an arbitrary time restriction.
“I am against the curfew … because I would like to know how much it would cost to get it instated and why this money isn’t being used for other after-school programs,” he said. “Not all of these shootings are after 10 — some of them are happening in broad daylight.”
The testimony came just days after a series of four shootings on Monday, two of which took place between the hours of 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. Yale University Chaplain Frederick Streets’ adult son had been injured in one of the incidents.
A minority of students at Hillhouse supported the proposal strongly. Kimberly Rodriguez, a junior at Hillhouse High School, said the curfew would force students to think about the impact of violence.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “Some kids will actually realize that … there really is something wrong, maybe we should listen.”
One of the audience’s biggest concerns was tension between inner-city youth and the police department. Some students argued that the curfew would lead to greater police harassment and increased racial profiling.
“It’s not going to do anything but cause unnecessary confrontations between youth and police,” Hardy said. “A lot of the people of the African-American race in the urban areas don’t trust police officers because they feel they get racially profiled.”
Instead of the curfew, students said, they want the city to focus on extracurricular programs, job incentives and community houses that would keep kids off the streets and out of trouble. Ronald Huggins, the freshman class president at Hillhouse High School, noted that violence sharply increased after the city shut down the popular Dixwell Community House.
Regardless of whether the proposal passes, Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark said, the committee hearing strongly demonstrated the importance of civic participation and community involvement. Students on the city’s youth committee helped organize the hearing and provided valuable insight into ways to increase its accessibility, she said.
“These kids came and they said, ‘if you have a meeting at [Hill Regional] Career High School, you will only get some of the people,’” Clark said. “You won’t get people to go onto the Hill because of [gang-related] turf wars. We never would have thought about that if it weren’t for these young people.”
A second meeting for youth input on the proposal will be held Thursday night at Wilbur Cross High School. The two meetings were organized so as to avoid tensions between students from different neighborhoods.