Capital B Atlanta will host a discussion on Wednesday, Dec. 14, on the future of Atlanta’s police department and improving public safety in Black communities. Join us at Wild Heaven Brewery, 1010 White St., in Atlanta.

Concerned parents and community members who gathered at an Atlanta public safety meeting Tuesday night called for more after-school programs, additional sports activities, and increased resources for single mothers, in response to recent violence involving teenagers in the city.

Speaking in front of members of the City Council and Public Safety Commission, residents shared that they were fearful, but not hopeless, that the ongoing issue of juvenile crime can be curbed.

“I share your frustration, I share your pain, I share your rage,” said Atlanta City Council member Keisha Sean Waites.

The Public Safety Commission includes representatives from neighborhood associations, Atlanta Public Schools police, Grady Hospital, MARTA police, and business leaders. The commission was reactivated earlier this year following the creation of the Buckhead Public Safety Task Force to address violent crime.

Tuesday’s special meeting of the Public Safety Commission was called by Waites, the Post 3 At-Large council member, to invite the public to give input on strategies for the city to combat youth violence.

Resident Aaliyah Strong spoke to the commission about an organization for victims of gun violence that she started after she saw her fiancé fatally shot outside a nightclub in February. Strong, who calls her organization Tyme to Thrive Beyond Grief, joined other residents in asking that the city work with community members who are working to combat violence.

While the meeting was focused on community-based efforts, one measure that has also gained traction is the idea of an 8 p.m. curfew for youth in Atlanta.

Waites made the suggestion during a public safety committee meeting on Nov. 28, saying that “drastic times call for drastic measures.” She called for imposing a citywide mandatory curfew for residents 17 and under beginning at 8 p.m., three hours earlier than the current curfew.

“Given the recent shootings and reports in high-traffic retail spaces, this stopgap measure will save lives,” Waites said.

The heightened conversations about juvenile crime have come in response to the deadly Nov. 26 shooting near Atlantic Station. Twelve-year-old Zyion Charles and 15-year-old Cameron Jackson were killed when two groups of teens clashed there following an argument earlier in the day, according to the Atlanta Police Department. 

On Monday, a third teenager was arrested in connection with the shooting at the 17th street bridge. The 16-year-old from Clayton County, along with a 15-year-old and 16-year-old from Atlanta who were arrested last week, are all being charged with murder, aggravated assault and participation in criminal gang activity.

The shooting occurred at 8 p.m., well after Atlantic Center’s 3 p.m. curfew for unaccompanied youths.

The curfew has failed to gain widespread public support, with many parents concerned about how it will affect their children’s ability to work and socialize outside of school.

Waites hasn’t introduced the curfew legislation to the Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee, meaning the update wouldn’t be discussed or voted on by the city council until the new year.

Other members of council have not commented on the proposed curfew update, but community organizer Duwon Robinson voiced his support for the earlier curfew time at the public safety meeting Dec 12.

‘Basically unenforceable’

With the Atlanta Police Department struggling with understaffing, it is not clear how effectively a curfew can be implemented. The city currently has an 11 p.m. curfew for youth under 16, which the City Council passed in 1990 under former Mayor Maynard Jackson in response to “drug-related violence.”

But that curfew isn’t being enforced for a number of reasons, Waites said. 

“People don’t want to put our children in the criminal penal system. There are basically no real fines or penalties for violating the [current] curfew,” she said. 

Youth who are found to be in violation of curfew can legally be detained by Atlanta police until their parents pick them up. But that rarely happens, nor does Waites want it to under her proposal.

Like the current curfew, she has acknowledged that her proposal would be “basically unenforceable” on a large scale. Instead, her goal is to arm parents and business owners with a tool to help them curb youths who are drawn to the streets at night. 

“This is a very small measure to start the conversation,” Waites said. “I think the faith community has got to step up, I think the business and corporate community have got to step up. I think it’s going to involve a holistic collaborative effort with parents.”

Systemic issues

Waites called the proposed curfew a stopgap measure until the larger, systemic issues at the root of juvenile crime are addressed.

“While this violent behavior is problematic, it is, in and of itself, a symptom of a more significant problem that involves wealth disparities, access to resources, and social disparities that adversely impact Black residents at a disproportionately higher rate than other races,” she said. “It is going to take all of us working together if we are going to reduce the number of murders.”

This curfew would not be a one-size-fits-all solution, according to Waites. Exceptions will be made for kids who are working or involved with athletic, religious, and volunteer activities, as well as emancipated minors.

“We can revisit this,” Waites said. “I am super open to increasing the hours on Friday and Saturday. I am super open to seeing an increase during summer months when daylight hours are different. I’m open to that. I’m not quarterbacking this.”

Madeline Thigpen is Capital B Atlanta's criminal justice reporter.