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It's Time For Men To Mentor

Stan Simpson

August 16, 2008

Day one of a much-anticipated enforcement of a Hartford curfew that has actually been on the books for 31 years was uneventful for me, anyway. I fell asleep.

The Hartford police should be so lucky. To have its teen night crawlers tucked away and getting their slumber on instead of creating mayhem and mischief at night is the goal of this 9 p.m. curfew, misguided as it may be.

My plan was to take a brief nap Thursday night and go out on my own patrol at midnight. When I awoke, however, it was daylight.

The biggest problem the city is going to have with this revived curfew is where to bring the wandering youths so they can get a good night's sleep. Simply sending them back to the same environment that compelled them to be out at night in the first place makes no sense. But then again, neither does re-establishing a curfew in response to shootings that occurred in daylight.

The city of Pittsburgh found out a couple of months ago that curfews can be cumbersome. After a rash of shootings involving young people there, the Steel City imposed an 11 p.m. curfew. The police, however, eventually realized they had no place to take juveniles. District Judge Gene Ricciardi warned that Pittsburgh could be legally liable for sending a child to a home where that kid was being abused or neglected.

The judge recommended that a curfew center be reopened, with trained counselors on staff, to handle the teens. Cash-strapped Hartford doesn't really want to go there.

Enforcing a curfew is a nightmare. It could help, though, in limiting the number of young people at risk of getting shot in the streets.

The crackdown is really more posture than punishment. It's a way for Hartford to say it's getting tough on street violence and hope that those 18 and under, and their parents and guardians, will be fearful of the consequences.

When I publicly floated the idea of reinforcing the existing city curfew three years ago, one of the biggest detractors was a deputy chief named Daryl Roberts. He said then that the HPD didn't have the personnel to manage a curfew, and that frankly it wasn't really their job. "I would like to see some of the parents and responsible adults take that initiative upon themselves," Roberts said in 2005. "You don't need us to enforce the curfew. We need parents to be parents, to instill some discipline and rules in the house."

This week, Roberts, now the city's top cop, told me that the increased street violence 106 shooting incidents and 137 shooting victims this year caused him to reconsider. "I still think parents should be held accountable, I really do," Roberts said. "But the violence has escalated to the point now where we have to do something drastic, control the kids and, in a sense, save them if the parents are not able to do it."

Here's a better idea, courtesy of youth advocate Phillip Davis: How about opening a boarding school for Hartford boys? You know, math, manners and manhood. Too many urban teens have misguided notions about guns and masculinity.

Troy Brown, 37, was born and reared in North Hartford by a single mother. He and wife Tracie are attorneys, live in the city and are Big Brothers and Big Sisters volunteers.

"We have to get more folks who are from the area who can relate to these kids and show them that there are other opportunities for them," Brown said. "I just think it's my responsibility, that I should give something back."

There's a dire need for more men to MEN-tor. For guys with a calling for community, it's something to sleep on.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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