Friday, April 12 2013 6:03 PM EDT2013-04-12 22:03:52 GMT
Mayor Sly James signed a new curfew law Friday requiring most teens to leave the Country Club Plaza and four other entertainment districts earlier starting tonight. No problems were reported Friday night.More >
Friday, April 12 2013 6:03 PM EDT2013-04-12 22:03:31 GMT
Kansas City Council members are putting the finishing touches on a new curfew law that could be voted on as soon as Thursday. Targeting selected areas for the new curfew and boosting the fine for parents whose kids violate the new law are among the highlights. More >
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
Mayor Sly James hopes getting more kids on the basketball court will keep them out of trouble in places like the Country Club Plaza, and he's willing to spend more money to make it happen.
The Plaza is where city youth made headlines after several instances of violence broke out. After a gunfight on the Plaza nearly two years ago that resulted in the arrest of several teens, officials have been trying to stop the violence in the city's entertainment districts. That incident and the ones following have forced the city to spend twice as much money on youth programs this summer as well as consider a year-round curfew.
The scene of flashing police lights and handcuffed teens is making Plaza patrons and businesses uncomfortable.
"We have kids that need places to go and they happen to show up on the Plaza, and frankly they just aren't welcomed there in some instances, as you might think," James said.
The Kansas City, MO, mayor announced Mayor's Night. It takes last year's youth programs and doubles them with more money, more hours, more locations and four more weeks.
"If these kids don't have anywhere to go, you're going to have problems. This is an opportunity to create a somewhat safe environment for our youth," community activist Pat Clarke said.
Clarke has been rallying for more youth programs like Mayor's Night. During it, five community centers will offer basketball, soccer, dancing and even academic and job training.
Council members are also asking whether a year-round curfew could further help keep teens in line. Currently the 9 p.m. curfew for anyone under 18 years of age has been put in place to keep crime down in the summer, from Memorial Day weekend to the last Sunday in September. The curfew is being enforced at the five entertainment districts that include the Plaza, Westport, Zona Rosa, Central, which is the downtown area in and around the Power and Light District, and 18th and Vine. Anyone under 18 found hanging out in the areas after 9 p.m. without a parent would be cited.
"It's not a fix to the problem. It's a Band-Aid to a bleeder," James said.
It's a solution that could also prove too costly for a budget-tight city.
"The city cannot and should not be in the position of providing year-round control of every kid in the city," the mayor said.
Some council members said there needs to be a curfew because teens are loitering and causing disturbances without parental supervision.
Other council members, like Jermaine Reed, are worried it will create an unfair target to minority teens. He said 34 citations for breaking the curfew were issued last year and a certain group of teens were targeted.
"All 34 or those, and this goes from whites, blacks, Hispanics and others, all 34 of those tickets that were issued were black - all 34," Reed said.
Council member Michael Brooks agreed and gave a personal reason for his concerns.
"I can say that the Plaza hadn't changed since I was a kid as a black youth. We weren't welcomed on the Plaza and the same thing happened to me personally - just by being on the Plaza and seeming to be out of place…was forced off the Plaza and I'm talking about a 16-year-old kid that was forced off and wasn't doing anything wrong," Brooks said.
But the mayor and others testified Wednesday that this is not a race issue and is instead about unruly teens, safety and making sure that everyone is having a good time in the entertainment districts.
"Race does play a factor in some of these perceptions and issues, but we also need to be above that fact and recognize that we still have to deal with that perception and deal with the problem underlying it," James said. "There is in fact a racial issue in this city. I would be careful, however, to say that because 34 tickets handed were given to 34 African American youths that that is an indication of some sort of racial issue. It is in reality more of an indication of who was there and who was acting out."
Council member Jan Marcason, who sponsored the proposed changes to the curfew, wants to extend it beyond the summer months.
"These incidents cause potential danger to our young people and unfavorable impact to businesses, residents and visitors to our city," Marcason said.
James said more discussion is needed and not just with council members.
"There needs to be a bigger conversation that takes place between kids that go to the Plaza, this council and restaurateurs," he said.
The public safety committee heard discussion Wednesday about changing the summer curfew to year-round. They wanted to hear from police, businesses and teens who would be affected. The committee will revisit the issue in three weeks with the data before sending it to the full council.
If someone would like to sign up their child for Mayor's Night, the city asks them to preregister online and they'll get a swipe card that allows them to skip the lines. Registrants will get a card that must be taken to the venue for fast entry.
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