Teens bash curfew

Knightdale's rules go too far, kids say

Staff WriterMay 24, 2005 

When Knightdale's Town Council unanimously adopted a much stricter curfew ordinance last week, it was the safety and security of residents that took center stage, not James Bradshaw's ability to get a cheeseburger.

But for James, 14, the ordinance's impact stretches all the way to cheeseburgers.

"That's draconious [sic]," James said of the curfew. "I can't even go to Wendy's and get a junior bacon cheeseburger for lunch."

To be fair, James was indulging in a bit of teenage hyperbole. The ordinance doesn't actually prevent teenagers from buying cheeseburgers.

But its harshness has some teens feeling as if they're being punished for the stupid acts of a handful of youths -- many of whom, they say, don't even live in Knightdale.

The new curfew prohibits those under 18 from being outside in public spaces after 9 p.m. without adult supervision. Parents whose children violate the curfew would initially receive a warning. The next violation would result in a $100 fine, with subsequent fines increasing $150 each time. Jail time is an eventual possibility for parents whose children repeatedly violate the ordinance.

On Sunday afternoon, James was leaving the Mingo basketball courts in the Parkside subdivision with Cardale Fair, 11. The friends live in the Carrington Woods subdivision, a neighborhood that has seen an increase in graffiti in recent months.

James and Cardale said their lives revolve around basketball, not gangs. Two weeks ago, they said, their local basketball hoop, which faced the street, was removed to keep them from playing in the street, and now police patrol their neighborhood a dozen times a day.

"We're just looking to play ball," Cardale said. "[The police] make it seem like we're doing something wrong for playing basketball."

James said that there is some gang activity in their neighborhood but that the curfew is an overreaction.

"They hear the word 'gang,' and they automatically think everyone in Knightdale is going to die tomorrow," he said of town officials.

Mixed feelings

Most parents support the new curfew and say it is a necessary step to get parents involved and to prevent gangs from further encroaching into their neighborhoods.

"You would never think we'd have gangs in our little town," said resident Bonita Brewington, who has an 11-year-old son. "Overall, I'm in agreement with [the curfew]."

D.J. Allen, 14, said he might not like the new curfew, but he understands why it's there.

"I think it's right and wrong," he said. "I think it's right in that it will cut off some of that stuff, but it's wrong in that some people will not have as much fun."

The ordinance includes exceptions for traveling to and from a job or any other organized activity that is supervised by adults. In such cases, juveniles must carry a written note, signed by a parent, that lists their home address and telephone number.

Town Manager Gary McConkey said that Knightdale police officers will receive training this week on applying the new ordinance and that officers will have discretion in enforcing it.

"We want to be fair to everyone and consistent in how we apply it," he said.

D.J. and other teens said the real solution to the problem is to offer an alternative to hanging out in the streets.

"They need to build a Boys & Girls Club where everybody can have fun and keep them off the streets," D.J. said.

McConkey said the town plans to open a teen center at the Harper Park Community Building next month that will host poetry slams and other activities for teens ages 13 to 17. He said the town also hopes to arrange youth basketball games at a local church.

Limits on gatherings

Another aspect of the ordinance that bothers some teens is the rule making it illegal for four or more youths to gather in a public place.

On Sunday, teenagers Chris Smith, James Harris, Elijah Robertson and Damontae Tapp were racing their bikes in Bridgegate, a subdivision just south of U.S. 64. They said that the youths responsible for the graffiti in town were mostly from outside Knightdale and that the new curfew made hanging out with friends seem like a suspicious activity.

The four teens were all wearing white T-shirts -- a color they said they chose because it is not affiliated with any gangs. But they said police often assume it means something.

"This white bandanna doesn't mean anything," James Harris said, pointing to his forehead, "but they just assume it's a gang or something."

For James Bradshaw, who has lived in Knightdale for four years, the curfew is a reminder that being a kid used to be much simpler.

"I liked it better in the beginning, because we didn't have to worry about it," he said.

Staff writer David Bracken can be reached at 829-4548 or dbracken@newsobserver.com.

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