Detroit council limits curfew to fireworks night only

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit's top cop says he's confident the city's fireworks festivities will go smoothly, despite the City Council's refusal to support his plan for an expanded four-day curfew for youngsters.

The council's vote capped an emotionally charged meeting that spanned several hours with activists, teens and council members attacking the controversial proposal that the Detroit Police Department said was designed with safety in mind.

"We're still going to have a very safe and festive event," Police Chief James Craig said. "We are going to certainly push very hard to make sure we have a community presence on the ground during those days without the curfew."

The council, by a 4-3 vote, rejected a plan that would have established a curfew for minors ages 17 and under for four nights beginning Friday. President Brenda Jones and members Janee Ayers, Mary Sheffield and Gabe Leland voted no. The proposal called for a curfew downtown from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for the upcoming River Days festivities June 19-21.

The panel, however, did narrowly favor a curfew for Detroit's annual fireworks show on Monday that will run from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and be limited to the downtown area. The boundaries include the Detroit River to the south, I-375 to the north, Chene to the east and the Lodge Freeway to the west. Jones and Sheffield turned it down.

The plan had riled civil liberties advocates, raised racial concerns and frustrated some council members who argued the plan came too late, without a long-term fix and coincides with a Baptist convention downtown that's expected to draw thousands.

"It's unfair, unjust and unconstitutional," said the Rev. Dr. Tellis J. Chapman, pastor of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, stressing that he didn't want children attending the conference to end up in a police precinct.

"We are asking for respect. Aretha (Franklin) sings about it. Right now, we aren't getting it," Chapman said. "Quick fixes don't fix big problems and we've got a big problem on our hands."

Before the vote, Craig defended his request for the curfew, a move he says is focused on ensuring parental responsibility, youth safety and reducing criminal activity.

"To ask parents to play a role is not asking for a lot," Craig told the council, adding the curfew is a tool and not an "end-all answer."

Craig also stressed that for the first time youth caught violating the curfew will not be issued a citation. Rather, the child's caregiver will be ticketed.

"Many times when flare-ups happen, there are no detentions," he explained. "I'd rather deal with this (the controversial curfew), than the news the following morning dealing with something tragic."

At the same time, officials have forged an effort to lessen the impact of the curfew.

Craig and NAACP Director Wendell Anthony, who doesn't agree with Craig's plan, jointly worked to recruit volunteers, churches and community groups to help maintain order and supervise children.

Anthony drew applause from the crowd Tuesday while reading a statement in opposition to the curfew.

"The optics are jarring," he said. "We do not need to send this kind of message to our children in Detroit."

Several council members were also critical of the plan — and made clear they can't support it.

Jones took issue with the inconsistent regulations for downtown events and said she "has a concern" with curfew.

"I do support the police, but I cannot support this," Jones told Craig. "It is imposing entirely too much on the city youth."

Likewise, members Janee Ayers and Mary Sheffield weren't pleased with the last-minute request and absence of a longer-term fix.

"We have a responsibility to the people of the city," Ayers said. "We are not thinking about the long-term here."

Member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who had to leave the meeting before the upcoming vote, asked for certain paperwork requirements for youth to be lifted, among other changes.

"I don't think we should use fear as a motivating factor to decide who can use our public spaces," she said, adding she opposes the curfews.

This year's Detroit Ford Fireworks show will also coincide with the opening of a five-day National Baptist Convention event at Cobo Center.

About 10,000 to 15,000 individuals are expected to attend .

But Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. had a different take than most colleagues. He felt the rules were a smart move.

"We don't want to take the risk of people getting hurt," he said.

The curfew recommendations considered Tuesday was more lenient than an initial plan for a citywide curfew at 6 p.m. all four days.

Last year, nearly 150 juveniles were detained at the fireworks for violating curfew and faced fines from "parent responsibility citations."