MIAMI — Beginning on May 1, young people under the age of 17 who are caught out after 11 p.m. on weekdays and after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays in the city of Miami could be detained, and their parents could be fined.
The crackdown is a curfew enacted by Miami-Dade County that has been in existence since 1994, but has been largely unenforced.
Miami City Commissioner Richard Dunn has been instrumental in resuscitating the curfew in the city, in an effort to save lives.
At an April 19 town hall meeting at Charles Hadley Park’s Black Box Theatre, Dunn assured concerned parents and community leaders that the curfew is not “the singular answer” to crime, but serves as a means of keeping young people off the streets.
The District 5 commissioner, who was appointed to replace suspended City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, was accompanied by North District Police Commander Keith Cunningham and Model City/Little Haiti N.E.T. director vonCarol Kinchens.
Dunn acknowledged that the curfew has been a controversial issue that has caused debate in the community, but was delighted that the audience appeared to be unanimously in support of the effort.
“I am not concerned about the politics, I am concerned about the children,” Dunn said. “If I decide to run again and lose because of this initiative; God Bless me. I will hold my head up high because I am doing what I believe is right. ”
Brothers of the Same Mind organizer Brian Dennis applauded Dunn’s efforts, but expressed his concern that “overzealous police officers” may use the curfew to arrest young men in high numbers.
“Your efforts can’t be boxed, we have to take a radical approach and make sure that the youth understand how they [are] going to be affected,” Dennis said.
Cunningham assured the audience that underage youth who are picked up by the police will be “detained, not arrested,” patted down for weapons to ensure the officer’s safety, and handcuffed only if an officer determines that a young person has a preexisting offense, once his or her identification has been run through the police computer database.
“Our officers will all participate in year-round mandatory sensitivity trainings to ensure that we do not violate anyone’s civil rights,” Cunningham added.
There are exceptions to the curfew. Teens caught out after curfew hours must be with a parent or adult who is 21 or older. Teens will also be given a pass if they are engaged in other activities such as working, going to church or recreational activities.
Repeat curfew violators (after the third pick-up) may face stiffer penalties, including receiving a juvenile citation, or having their parents fined up to $500. If teens are detained, an officer could decide to take the youth to the teen's place of residence, or request that a parent or guardian come to where their child is being detained to pick up the child. The parent or guardian will be required to present documentation that proves a relationship to the child.
Community advocate Michael Wright, who works with the R.E.A.L. Steppers organization at Charles Hadley Park, addressed the panel in support of the curfew, but with concern that there is a lack of funding for youth programming in the community.
Kinchens assured the audience that the city is working on special youth projects such as hosting a teen summit before schools are dismissed for the summer, as well as hosting bi-monthly events at Hadley Park, where residents can fully utilize the skating rink.
“This is something we’re trying to bring back for the kids to do and hopefully get the parents involved,” Kinchens said. “We’re going to do what we can to make sure we have enough activities happening throughout the summer for the kids to take place in so they won’t be out in the streets.”
“This is not the only solution to stopping violence in our community; I have better sense than that,” Dunn said. "I do believe it can serve as a preventive measure to protect our young people and that is something we have to do. Their safety is in our hands, and we are not trying to criminalize them, we are trying to protect them."
Prior to the curfew forum, a group of elected officials, community members, and families who had lost their loved ones to violence gathered at the Joseph Caleb Center for a unity ceremony and candlelight vigil. State Sen. Frederica Wilson was joined by Dunn, Miami-Dade NAACP President Victor Curry, Miami Police Lt. Joseph Schillaci and Miami-Dade County School Board Member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway.
As the auditorium lights were dimmed and rally participants held candles to pay their respects, the families of murder victims James Tinsdale Anderson, Eviton Brown, Sherdavia Jenkins, Jeffery Johnson Jr., Sabrina O’Neil, Rickia Isaac, Rod Williams, Zachary Moore, Samuel Brown and University of Miami football player Bryan Pata gathered around a casket for a mock funeral to provide a visual reminder that families are devastated after their loves ones are murdered.
Jeffrey Johnson Sr., who lost his son four years ago — just days before his high school graduation, gave an emotional testimony about the bond that he and his namesake shared.
“I raised him, nurtured him, loved him and then they murdered him,” Johnson said. “When you kill someone, you also kill the living because we never stop
feeling. I still talk and walk with this every day.”
Ronette Pata, who stood with her mother, Jeanette, described her brother, Bryan, as a hard worker who was loved and admired by his school and his family. Bryan Pata, who was a defensive lineman for the Miami Hurricanes, was gunned down on Nov. 7, 2006 outside his apartment complex after he returned from practice.
“The person who took his life didn’t have respect for life at all. We don’t want another family to feel what we feel,” Ronette Pata said.
FILE PHOTO: Miami City Commissioner Richard Dunn
The More You Know
• Curfew hours are from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Sunday nights to Friday mornings; and 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. from Friday nights to Sunday mornings.
• Curfew applies to any child under the age of 17 in Miami-Dade County.
• Kids cannot be on foot or in a vehicle between these hours unless they are in the company of their parent or another adult over the age of 21.
• Kids found not in compliance with the ordinance will be escorted home or to the nearest police station or holding facility, and their parents will be contacted.