(FinalCall.com) – In recent weeks, the cities of Hartford, Conn., and Helena-West Helena, Ark., have gotten attention because of curfews the small cities instituted because of spikes in gun violence.
The 400-year-old city of Hartford, which is the state capital and the center of America’s insurance industry, enacted a 30-day curfew for teens under 18 without an adult present Aug. 11, after 10 people were wounded by gunfire.
The shootings occurred after the annual West Indian Day Parade, at 6:30 p.m. A 21-year-old was killed. A seven-year-old boy was shot in the head, a 15-month-old baby was wounded and bullets hit at least four teens.
“Let there be no doubt that this mayor will impose whatever measures necessary to keep the peace,” Mayor Eddie Perez told reporters at a press conference.
“The curfew was instituted after much thought was given to the issue and only as a last resort,” Sarah Barr, director of communications for the mayor told The Final Call. There hasn’t been a shooting incident since the curfew was established, she said. Anyone younger than 18 and on the streets after 9 p.m. is issued a citation. The Hartford police department said 150 people have been shot so far in 2008, compared to 95 for the same period in 2007.
The city of Helena-West Helena, located on the banks of the Mississippi River with a population of 15,012, instituted its curfew on Aug. 12 over a 10-block area, but expanded the curfew to all neighborhoods a week later.
“Senior citizens came to us complaining that they had to sleep on the floor to avoid being shot,” Mayor James F. Valley told The Final Call. Mayor Valley, a father of five whose oldest son is 17-years-old, said it was a measure of last resort.
The city of Helena-West Helena is one of the nation’s poorest, even worse then parts of the Appalachian region, according to the Associated Press.
Blacks are 66.63 percent of the population, with Whites at 31.85 percent, according to census figures. The median household income is $19,896 a year.
“We are struggling to get parents and guardians to understand that they must take control of their children,” Mayor Valley said.
The sight of police officers armed with military-style M-16 and M-4 rifles, however, raised the ire of the Arkansas American Civil Liberties Union, which has threatened to sue the city.
In an Aug. 20 e-mail statement, the Arkansas ACLU said it opposes “the unconstitutional policies and practices, including forcing innocent people into their homes; arresting citizens for walking on city streets; and ordering innocent people not to travel into or out of parts of certain areas.”
“We have talked with the ACLU. We’re not picking on anyone,” said Mayor Valley. An anti-racial profiling ordinance has been created, he said.
“The teens are getting caught up in the moment with the guns and the drugs,” Mayor Valley added. He also admitted there isn’t much for teens to do in the city. There is no movie theater, skating rink or recreation center. “We have established a Boys and Girls’ club and we have brought in counseling services, trying to change the environment,” said Mayor Valley.
Other problems include teen pregnancy, substandard schools and a plethora of single mothers raising their children, he added.
Naim Muhammad, student minister at Muhammad Mosque No. 14 in Hartford, believes the curfew may have an immediate positive effect. The curfew is a band-aid while substantive work needs to be done on serious problems like unemployment and poor performing schools, he said. Businesses and gentrification are also coming back to Hartford, said Mr. Muhammad. He and other activists plan to sit down with the mayor when the curfew ends.
We Must Pay Attention to the Rise of Gun Violence (FCN, 07-14-2008)
Boston police launch controversial gun search program (FCN, 01-28-2008)