richard-dunn_web.jpgOn Saturday, May 1, the city of Miami began enforcing a controversial teen curfew. The ordinance mandates that youth under the age of 17 be off public streets after 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

With all of the recent youth violence ravaging Miami’s inner city, some adults say the curfew is a step in the right direction. Others, however, say the curfew is an unreasonable answer that will only serve to criminalize many youth and violate their civil rights.
But what do people in the community think? The South Florida Times asked students, residents and officials what they think of the curfew.

Corothers Zeigler, a 16-year-old student at Miami Northwestern Senior High School said the curfew is unfair.

“I don’t think it’s fair because teens should be allowed to stay out and have fun as long as they are staying out of trouble,” Zeigler said.

Elba Rosario, a 14-year-old ninth grader at Miami Central, disagrees.

“I agree with the curfew because something bad could happen to kids walking around at night. It’s dangerous,” Rosario said.

Gregory Hoffman, a junior at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, created a Facebook group called Against the New Miami-Dade County Teen Curfew that has over 12,350 members. After doing extensive research on the curfew, Hoffman said the curfew ordinance is a violation of teens’ civil rights.

“I created the group because I felt like there wasn’t really a good place where everyone could get correct info on it,” Hoffman said. “I actually found a copy of the ordinance online and I wanted to correct all of the rumors. It’s also unconstitutional. In 2004 they tried to start enforcing it and then the ACLU challenged it and it was ruled unconstitutional.”

Belinda Wright, a lifelong Liberty City resident with seven kids, two of whom are affected by the curfew,  disagrees with Hoffman. She said the implementation of the curfew is long overdue.

“They should have done this a long time ago because it stops a lot of teen violence. It might not stop the grown-ups who are acting silly, but at least we can help our kids. There are too many of our kids dying,” Wright said.

The curfew has been on the books since 1994, but was largely not enforced until Miami City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II led the charge to activate the law.

“The purpose of this curfew is to either keep them from being victimized or being exposed to the element of crime. Nothing good happens after 12 o’clock in the streets,” Dunn said.

Violators of the curfew are subject to warnings, detainment, and, if they are repeat offenders, their parents will be fined up to $500. There are exceptions if teens are accompanied by adults 21 years or older or are coming from places such as church, work or other recreational activities. Even with those exceptions, some community leaders are uneasy about it.

Alison Austin, the CEO of Liberty City’s Belafonte TACOLCY Center, said the curfew is misdirected and equivalent to putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound.

“In my opinion, the enforcement of this curfew is a feel good for officials who refuse to accept responsibility for a deeper issue in our community. We want to hold our children responsible instead of taking responsibility for the inadequacy of our adult leaders,” Austin said.

Austin, a candidate for the District 5 Miami City Commission seat held by Dunn, also said enforcing the curfew puts the blame for the problems of crime on children instead of the adults who should be taking responsibility.

“We are blaming and now trying to punish chidren for a problem that was created by adults. The same way we embrace our kids in out-of-school programs and liturgical dance groups is the same way we must embrace Ray-Ray and them who are getting into trouble, instead of locking them down and locking them up because they are also our babies,” Austin continued.

Retha Boone, chair of the Black Advisory Board of Miami-Dade County, agrees that something needed to be done about the violence, but shares Austin’s concern about teens being unjustly targeted.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to resort to this type of drastic action, but I agree with the curfew. Unfortunately, the good have to suffer [with] the bad,“ Boone said.

Dunn said he finds the criticism of the curfew funny because no one else has come up with a viable solution.

“I find it almost humorous because I haven’t seen anybody else come up with a plan yet. This is not the end all or the cure all. My response to the critics would simply be this is just a starting point. If we can save one life, mission accomplished,” Dunn said.

Dunn also said he doesn’t mind being the perceived bully if it will to help save lives. 

In spite of the controvery, law enforcement officials say even in the short amount of time since the curfew started, they have seen an impact on the streets. Officer Craig McQueen is the major of the city of Miami’s North District Police Precinct. The precinct’s boundaries span from NW 38th thru 79th Streets and east of Biscayne Boulevard to NW 18th Avenue.

“For the most part it looks like folks are complying,” McQueen said. “Since this started we only had two juvenile apprehensions and a total of six warnings, which is great. In both cases of detainment, the parents were reached. I’m ecstatic about the numbers because my goal is to save lives. We’ve been receiving tremendous community support.”

Photo: Miami City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II