Mayor, police commissioner host forum on youth curfew

By Andrew Koch

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts hosted the second of two community forums on the city’s new youth curfew on July 29 in the University of Baltimore Law Center’s Moot Court. The forum, which followed one that was held eight days earlier at Morgan State University, got contentious at times.

The curfew legislation was sponsored by City Councilman Brandon Scott, who felt that the curfew law that’s been on the books for the last 20 years, since he was a boy, needed to be updated for the culture of 2014.

“The curfew that we had was outdated, it didn’t make sense. We were able to lock parents up for a curfew, which didn’t make sense,” Councilman Scott said. “We had five-year-olds and 16-year-olds having the same curfew, which doesn’t make sense, and having the same curfew when school is out and when school is in session.”

The curfew was approved by the City Council in early June, and will go into effect on Aug 8. It’s widely considered to be one of the strictest in the country. However, Councilman Scott said that earlier this year he traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to see how the city government enforced its youth curfew. He says Kansas City’s curfew is much stricter than the one that’s going into effect in Baltimore. However, opposition to the law is being led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Under the law, there are curfews for both daytime and nighttime. During the day, children under the age of 16 aren’t allowed to be in any public places or establishments between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on school days. The exceptions are when the child is accompanied by a parent, guardian or responsible adult, has written proof from school officials excusing attendance, or is traveling to or from school. The nighttime curfew is more complex.

At night, children under the age of 14 can’t be in public places or establishments from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. any night of the week. Young people between the ages of 14 and under 17 can’t be out in public between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights during the school year, and between 11 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekends during the school year, and any night of the week during the summer. Summer is defined as 12:01 a.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day to midnight on the last Sunday in August. The nighttime curfew doesn’t apply when a young person is accompanied by a parent or guardian, is on the sidewalk near his or her or a neighbor’s residence, is traveling to or from a job, or is exercising First Amendment rights. Other exceptions include being involved in an emergency, doing interstate travel in a vehicle, and attending official school, religious and other recreational activities that have adult supervision, and are sponsored by civic organizations or the City of Baltimore that are taking responsibility for the young people.

Minors who are found by police out on the streets when they shouldn’t be will be brought to Youth Connection Centers at either the Lillian Jones recreation center in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in West Baltimore, or the Collington Square recreation center in the Broadway East section of East Baltimore, according to The Baltimore Sun. At that point, officers will try to get in touch with parents or guardians to take them home. If a parent or guardian can’t be contacted, children who are brought to the Youth Connection Centers will then be referred to the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. Parents and guardians will be fined between $30 and $500, but those fines can be waived if they complete approved counseling, which is being referred to as “parenting classes.”

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said the new curfew law isn’t being implemented because residents are scared of the kids who are out in the streets late at night in their neighborhoods, but rather because they’re concerned for their well-being. “It’s not about afraid of the kids, it’s about concern that these kids are out there making themselves vulnerable to be in harm’s way,” Rawlings-Blake said.

She added that as the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, she doesn’t want her daughter being out at all hours of the night either harming others or causing harm to herself because “she doesn’t have enough sense” to be out on her own at those times of night.

Jerome Alexander of the Greater Baltimore Leadership Association said he would like to see the curfew be developed more before being implemented. His comments during the forum drew a round of applause. He says he’d like to see the return of an old program that many 20-and 30-somethings remember from when they were in school.

“I think there needs to be an implementation of the ‘Officer Friendly’ program, even if it’s not the exact same thing,” Alexander said. “But if they brought it back where every police officer had a mandatory hour or two per week or per month where they visited a local school.”

He said there are a lot of officers in the police department who live in the city, and know the neighborhoods very well.

Tessa Hill, the President of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, said the group’s biggest concern with the curfew is how officers who are on patrol deal with the young people they encounter on the streets.

“Make sure that the police out in the street, that the ones that will come in contact with the youth, do not aggressively … touch them or do anything that’s wrong, thinking that they are a criminal that they wanted yesterday,” Hill said. “They’ve got to make sure that they are sensitized to the fact that these are children that might be coming from homes with problems.”

According to a city pamphlet about the curfew that was available at the forum, officers are undergoing training on unbiased policing and youth strategies for law enforcement.

Prior to the start of the forum, a group of protesters were demonstrating outside the Law Center. They were holding up and waving signs and chanting phrases such as “What do we want?”; “Jobs and Education”; “When do we want them?”; “NOW”; and “Open Rec Centers, Not Detention Centers.”

During the forum, Police Com- missioner Batts described how he witnessed gang violence and saw things that children shouldn’t see in the rough South Central section of Los Angeles. He explained how his parents would make him come inside around sunset so he wouldn’t get into trouble. He told the audience that while driving around in Baltimore, he was “shocked” to see kids that he estimated ranged in age from 11 to 13 riding their bikes in the street at 3 and 4 a.m. on weekend nights.

Several times during the forum, people in the audience expressed their frustration at what they perceived as some being allowed to speak as long as they wanted, including the panel, while others were cut short and not allowed to fully ask their questions. That prompted moderator Gussener Augustus, Jr. of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods to remind the audience of the rules for the forum, and asking people to leave if they couldn’t conduct themselves accordingly. As the forum drew to a close, the same group of protesters that had been demonstrating in front of the Law Center expressed their disdain by once again chanting “Open Rec Centers, Not Detention Centers.”

Cycle tracks pave the way for a safer, cleaner commute to school

By Laura Melamed

Citing safety as a top priority, enthusiastic students and city residents commended plans to install protected bike lanes, called cycle tracks, on Maryland Ave. The lanes will run right through campus providing UB students with another commuting option.

“I’m really excited about the cycle tracks,” UB student Heather Franz, B.A. Environmental Sustainability and Human Ecology said. “Riding bikes brings people joy. I know more people would ride and enjoy it if we had better infrastructure. Bike riding saved my life when I was going through a really rough time.”

Franz received a bicycle as a gift when she was overwhelmed with school, family illness and trying to live on a budget.

cycle track_Melamed
The Maryland Avenue cycle track will be something like the 15th Street cycle track in Washington.

“I loved riding that bike,” Franz said. “For some reason it calmed me.”

“On the individual street level, protected bicycle paths calm traffic, which reduces automobile crash injuries and fatalities,” Chris Merriam, Executive Director of Bikemore, a local bicycle advocacy organization, wrote in an email.

Cycle tracks, which calm traffic, may save lives as well.

In 2012, 726 bike riders were killed nation- wide, and an additional 49,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes, according to a US Department of Transportation report. Across the city, cyclists may have a great deal to gain from the addition of cycle tracks in their neighborhoods.

In New York City, injuries dropped 56 per- cent as a result of a protected bike lane on Ninth Ave., according to a 2012 report by the New York City Department of Transportation.

Cycle track installation on Maryland Ave. will begin by Fall 2014 and be finished in 2015, Merriam said. The cycle track will link Charles Village to the Inner Harbor and points between, including The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and UB.

“For me it’s perfectly located—it’s literally my commute to school and work,” UB student Zachary Holbrook, B.A. Environmental Sustainability and Human Ecology, said.

Holbrook moved to Charles Village specifically to commute by bicycle. After two years and dropping 40 pounds, he said he feels fairly confident riding in traffic, but still has close calls with cars.

“I actually wrecked a couple of weeks ago,” Holbrook said.

He had to break and swerve when a car in front of him stopped short. Holbrook walked away with a cracked helmet, which he had to replace, and a scraped elbow.

“I was okay because I was wearing a helmet,” he said, “but if there were a cycle track there it never would have happened in the first place.”

Holbrook sees cycle tracks as essential for be- ginning and inexperienced riders. People who aren’t cycling now, but want to, will benefit from cycle tracks, he said.

“Let’s make our streets so people don’t die on them.”

“I’m afraid to ride in the street—I’m afraid I’ll get hit by a car,” UB student Ianta Allotey, B.A., Interdisciplinary Studies, said.

Allotey rides around Druid Hill Park for exercise, but wants to ride more. Leg pain accompanying a 60-pound weight gain has disappeared since she took up riding in May 2014.

Excited to hear about cycle tracks being installed on Maryland Ave, Allotey said she may use them to get to local restaurants, museums, galleries, the library and UB.

Cycle tracks, because they are safer than riding in the street, may encourage other city residents to take up cycling, as well.

After the Maryland Ave. installation, a cycle track will be built on Mt. Royal Ave. that will go from Lafayette St. at the heart of the MICA campus and extend .5 miles to the Southeast. There, the track will merge with the Jones Falls Trail at St. Paul St. across from Henderson House. The Mt. Royal cycle track is anticipated to start in 2015 and take 560 days to complete. The project, when finished, will increase student safety.

Cycle tracks presented the lowest risk of injury out of 14 types of routes, concluded a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2012.

“Mt. Royal can get pretty hairy,” Steven Carson, B.S., Business Administration, said while unlocking his bicycle from a rack on Gordon Plaza after class earlier this summer.

Students can expect to see more bike racks at the Student Center and elsewhere on campus this semester, UB Sustainability Planner Jeff La Noue said.

A safe cycling infrastructure in this neighborhood is critical, Megan Hamilton, co-founder of the Creative Alliance and avid Baltimore cyclist since 1990, said.

A driver running a red light hit Hamilton while she was riding her bike in 2008. She had to have four separate surgeries as a result.

Hamilton insists cycle tracks are essential. The University of Baltimore is at the heart of the cycling community, she said, stressing the urgency of building protected bike lanes for both students and local commuters.

Photo Credit: thisisbossi on Flickr.com