DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Debate continues in Dallas over whether the city should reinstate a juvenile curfew.
Now, the community must be heard before the council moves forward and at the first of two public hearings on the matter, speakers are giving city leaders an earful.
“These are children,” said one speaker. “Children do not belong in cuffs. Police should not be the first responders when it comes to children on the street.”
However, a parent took to the podium to defend the curfew, calling it a useful tool.
“Because of the curfew law, my son was brought home to me three times,” says the speaker who told the council that during a difficult time she was a single mom working two jobs and her son was struggling with abandonment. “He was running to the streets and he was running to drugs. Police officers brought him home to me safely, talked to us, worked with us… now my son is in college. I needed the support of this curfew law.”
In the back and forth that lasted for about an hour, some speakers derided the curfew as a stop on the “school to prison pipeline” for black and brown youth.
“Police officers have the ability to see a child, to stop a child and take them home to their parents without there having to be a law or a policy on the books to arrest that child and have that child in the system,” said Minister Edwin Robinson. “We all want to protect our children. But, I believe we are smart enough. We are good enough, and we can work together well enough to figure out a way to protect our children that does not also allow for our children to be cited and arrested.”
The juvenile ordinance has for decades allowed police to stop, question and even cite minors on the street during school hours or between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. The curfew was midnight on weekends.
Exceptions were already in place for work or school activities and with parental consent.
Supporter and community advocate Edna Pemberton says changes have already been put in place to remove the financial hardship the citations might impose on already struggling families, but she still maintains that the curfew helps police identify those who may be in trouble.
“It can’t be a problem because people would be marching against it,” says Pemberton, who helped to craft the original ordinance. “They’re talking about other issues: we need this, we need that. That has nothing to do with taking control of the streets.”
Supporter Betty Culbreath spoke against those using the juvenile ordinance as an example of discrimination presents in the city.
“We’ve got a problem,” said Culbreath, as she recited the high numbers of minority youth already in police custody of some sort “but, it’s not the curfew. The numbers that you’re talking about in juvenile detention and Lew Sterrett (Jail), It’s not the curfew. We need the curfew to give parents and police officers a tool to help us save our kids.”
Police are in support of the ordinance as well.
“They’re saying in there that we can talk to anybody: well, of course we can talk to anybody,” says Sgt. Michael Mata, President of the Dallas Police Association, “But without this ordinance they don’t have to talk to us. So I can stop that young 13 year old female and ask why are you out here in 4 in the AM, and she can really just stare at me and walk away.”
A second public hearing is scheduled for February 13.