The surprising, racially-divisive history of Columbia's 13-year debate over a youth curfewCOLUMBIA, Mo 7/16/13 (Feature) -- An old warhorse that's been limping for years is trying to ride again in Columbia. Police chief Ken Burton called for a so-called "youth curfew" earlier this month.
With violent crime at its worst in years, and petty crimes all over town, maybe it's the thought that counts. Like too many crime-fighting strategies that come from the leadership rather than the readership, Burton's idea is old news that lacks community support, despite a 13-year debate.In 2000, a crime-riddled apartment complex wanted a curfew for kids. First Ward residents debated a curfew in 2001."The push for a city curfew, however, probably won't reach the chambers of the Columbia City Council soon," the Tribune reported. "And when it does, it's likely to face substantial hurdles.""The message this year (2004) is that no police-run program, curfew or other, will work becauseblack folks in the First Ward and elsewhere don’t trust Columbia police."A curfew was old news even then, prompting the Trib to call it a "rehash.""Juveniles’ involvement in recent late-night disturbances downtown has First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton rehashing the idea of establishing a citywide curfew," the Columbia Daily Tribune reported in August, 2002.Downtown disturbances prompting talk of a curfew. Call it curfew deja vu.
Talk of a curfew, however, has remained just that -- talk. Crayton tried several times to interest the community, but then city attorney Fred Boeckmann warned that Constitutional questions, civil rights issues, and racial profiling concerns could impede curfew enforcement.Trib cartoonist Darkow ran a cartoon asking readers if they "knew where their curfew was,"a sly reference to the idea's on-again, off-again history."The Columbia City Council is approaching treacherous territory in considering a citywide curfew for juveniles," Tribune publisher Hank Waters opined in October 2002. "The very idea of forbidding teens from being on the streets after a certain hour must give Police Chief Randy Boehm the willies."The curfew refused to die, however, with 2003 -- now one decade ago -- bringing a flurry of debate that culminated in Columbia City Council action on a curfew ordinance.With some exceptions, the 2003 measure would have imposed a curfew on juveniles from 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. weekdays and from midnight to 5:30 a.m. on the weekend. Debate was so heated, the Council tabled the ordinance.CoMo NAACP leader Mary Ratliff called the curfew proposal "a Jim Crow law."Waters praised the move, saying more time was needed to discuss the "controversial measure." At the council meeting, "a parade of objectors said the law...would be enforced mainly against black youths," he noted.
Crayton ultimately withdrew the ordinance, facing criticism from First Ward constituents and local NAACP leader Mary Ratliff, who called the idea "a Jim Crow law," referencing the notorious discriminatory practices against black Americans.But even after Crayton's withdrawal, debate continued. Trib columnist Forrest Rose praised the idea, citing rowdiness, vandalism, and other teenage misbehavior. Trib cartoonist Darkow ran a cartoon asking readers if they "knew where their curfew was," a sly reference to the idea's on-again, off-again history."The very idea of forbidding teens from being on the streets after a certain hourmust give Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm the willies."Letters to the Editor poured in, both pro-curfew and con. "I am highly disappointed that Almeta Crayton withdrew her proposed curfew ordinance," one reader opined. "The curfew can’t replace parents who care about their children," wrote another reader who disagreed with the idea.The public kept hashing the idea too, with 50 people showing up to a curfew town hall just weeks after Crayton withdrew her embattled plan.
By the following year, talk of a curfew had finally passed. "The message this year (2004) is that no police-run program, curfew or other, will work because black folks in the First Ward and elsewhere don’t trust Columbia police," Trib columnist Tony Messenger wrote, putting a period on the curfew discussion.Or was it a comma?After ten long years, the curfew is back. And so is violent crime, with a vengeance. It's like the broken record Crayton referenced in her Council speech during the 2003 curfew debate."I want some action. I want some things going on," Crayton said. "I’m tired of the talk. Columbia has talked to death. You don’t have the balls to address the issues in this community, and yet you want me to sit here on this Council and cover my eyes like everyone else has covered their eyes for years. I will not do it."-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat