The carefree noise from the kids playing ball in the north Hartford schoolyard
was unmistakable - summer camp.
Run by the adjacent Salvation Army's North End Worship and Community Center,
the camp's 60 kids are supervised by college students on the grounds of
J.C. Clark elementary school. The school is across the street from a notorious
late-night convenience store fast becoming a symbol of the city's problem
with wayward youth.
About a month ago, according to Hartford Deputy Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts,
police had to crack down on the U-Stop on Barbour Street because it was
selling drug paraphernalia. It is illegal to possess drug paraphernalia
within 1,500 feet of a school. Rolling papers - popular for making marijuana
blunts - were seen on the shelves Tuesday.
There is intensified community talk about establishing a curfew on late-night
joints like the U-Stop. But there's not enough talk about reinforcing the
existing, but rarely enforced, curfew prohibiting kids under 18 from being
on the streets of Hartford after 9 p.m.
Call it the Kiddy Wagon if you have to, but if the HPD started carting
off the underage late owls, the word would get around pretty quickly that
the city was serious about reducing youth violence.
Just about everyone's nerves are frayed
as we read about the latest mindless shootings from young men barely old
enough to drive. As Roberts said, they're using "extreme force to
resolve minor issues."
Shops like U-Stop may contribute to the problem of incorrigible kids making
mischief after dark, but they don't cause it. Restricting the hours on convenience
stores would be like limiting the use of highway bridges to reduce the homeless
Want to get the kids off the streets? Have a long heart-to-heart with the
so-called adults who are supposed to be raising them.
"There are a lot of parents in our community that are failing their
children when it comes to responsibility and what it means to be a provider
and leader and role model," said Capt. Travis B. Lock, pastor of the
Salvation Army worship and community center. His building provides programs
for 600 young people annually. "And so, what do our kids do? They migrate
to the streets because they look for the love that they probably
can't get at home, and they look for the leadership and guidance that they
can't get at home."
Lock said you'd be hard pressed in most
communities to find a "smoke
shop" like U-Stop operating so near an elementary school and a community
A few weeks back, I talked to Pearl Dash, a retired state parole officer
who now does community-relations work for the Henry L. Fuqua funeral home
in Hartford. She understands firsthand what can happen when parents allow
their children run the streets unchecked. She asked me why the city doesn't
enforce its curfew on youth.
I didn't know it had one - and since 1977 at that.
"I think it would be a little tough to enforce right now because we
basically don't have the personnel to do it," Deputy Chief Roberts
said. "But I would like to see some of the parents and responsible
adults take that initiative upon themselves. You don't need us
to enforce the curfew. We need parents to be parents, to instill some discipline
and rules in the house."
With this generation, we're seeing the
fallout from the "babies making
babies" syndrome that church and community leaders lamented years ago.
Unfortunately, expecting some of these teens-turned-parents to
suddenly start acting responsibly is asking a lot.
"At the end of the day, the administrators and the activists and the
politicians will not change the North End," Lock said. "At the
end of the day, it will be the parents finally waking up from this
deep sleep that they're in and taking hold of the responsibility that they
have for their families."
In the meantime, as a public service, the cops ought to fire up the Kiddy
Wagon with a reminder that if parents won't enforce curfew at home - the
The city could even start a promotional campaign, recasting a popular phrase
from a public service announcement that aired back in the day:
"It's 9 p.m. You'd better know where
your children are!"
Stan Simpson's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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