State Sen. Robert Peters blasts mayor’s curfew plan

State Sen. Robert Peters’ (D-13th) parents were separated when he was a teenager growing up in Hyde Park. His mother had mental health issues that she self-medicated with pills and liquor, and his father worked a lot.

"By the time I became a teenager, anytime between 1998 and 2004, my parents’ marriage was very rocky to the point of separation, and my mom’s alcoholism really spiraled," he said. "That combination of things meant that I did not like to be home."

So he and friends cruised around in a friend’s Toyota. Ray Park, 5641 S. Kenwood Ave., was "an easy-to-go-to sanctuary." They sometimes threw eggs and caused problems in corner stores, "like a lot of teenagers who are going through a lot and decide to do stupid things in a group." They often stayed out past midnight.

These experiences inform Peters’ understanding that young people get in trouble everywhere; the question is "where, how and what are we doing to help with that energy?" Peters argues that instituting expanded curfews and restrictions, as the city did last week, aren’t the answer. Rather, Peters said, a more effective solution is expanding programming for young people and increasing investments in neighborhoods.

At around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, Seandell Holliday, a 16-year-old student at Gary Comer College Prep, 7131 S. South Chicago Ave., was shot and killed in Millennium Park. A 17-year-old has been charged. The Tribune has reported that it was only his second time he’d gone downtown for a "trend" — gatherings, especially popular among Black teenagers and typically planned at public spaces downtown, about which word spreads via social media.

WBEZ reported on trends in 2019, quoting South and West Side teenagers who said they go to trends on Michigan Avenue, beaches, parks and movie theaters because there’s nothing to do in their own neighborhoods.

Another WBEZ report from May 20 of this year quotes nonprofit leaders saying the city should respond to trends with their own events and services, offering music, dance lessons and outreach about mental and sexual health. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, asked if trends in Millennium Park could be an opportunity for the city, sent WBEZ information about youth employment opportunities in neighborhoods and music festivals, but little information about programs downtown on weekend nights.

Last Thursday, Lightfoot’s new ban on unaccompanied minors in Millennium Park after 6 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays went into effect. Lightfoot has also sent a proposal to City Council that would move the city’s seldom-enforced curfew for minors to 10 p.m. every night of the week.

"We, as a city, can not allow any of our public spaces to become platforms for danger. Anyone coming into our public spaces should expect to enjoy them peacefully and must respect and exhibit basic community norms of decency. We simply will not accept anything less," Lightfoot said in a statement announcing the restriction on unaccompanied minors in the park.

Peters said young people will find places to be amongst themselves; his question is what the government will do to make those spaces "healthy and accommodating." Curfews and restrictions in Millennium Park, which is in his district, will not stop teenagers from congregating elsewhere, he said.

"(The curfew) is not going to do anything to make us safer," argued Peters. "Compared to what’s currently implemented, it isn’t going to do (expletive)."

Instead of "living in an idealistic fantasy about how we’re going to treat violence" or being brutal by "locking people up and putting them in a cage," Peters said there should be "a realistic approach that’s grounded in actually dealing with the systemic issues that are the root causes of violence and mitigating the things that require a Band-Aid in that moment, dealing with the immediate crisis."

He described midnight basketball, a federally funded program in the early 1990s in which teenagers and 20-somethings played the sport between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., coupled with workshops and programming on life skills. The program’s advocates said, with some degree of evidence, that it got people off the street, gave them something to do and left them goal-focused and social.

Peters spoke again about his adolescence, noting that his misbehavior was occurring in the neighborhood where he lived, Hyde Park, because he felt safe here.

Structured, people-oriented programs that make teenagers feel safe in their communities are the answer, and Peters said the government has the money to do that. Law enforcement could do it with their community engagement efforts, he said. Peters’ Reimagine Public Safety Act invests $250 million in groups doing anti-violence work; he praised the work of violence-interruptors who can do effective interventions as disturbances bubble up in crowds.

"We still have a lot of work (to do) around the eviction and housing crises. We have a lot of work around health care," he said. "I think of those as violence prevention."

A kid born in the depths of the Great Recession is now 14, and Peters said by now he or she has seen a wave of foreclosures, evictions and, because of austerity, closings of community institutions.

"We need to move away from that and rebuild from that. That’s how we’ll get to public safety," he said. "Curfews aren’t going to change the dynamics of that situation."

via Hyde Park Herald

May 24, 2022 at 06:54AM

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