Atlanta council removes jail, fines for parents of kids who violate curfew

Atlanta councilwoman proposes curfew for kids 17 and under

Atlanta councilwoman proposes curfew for kids 17 and under

With youth gun violence a persistent problem and Mayor Andre Dickens calling 2023 the “Year of the Youth,” the city council on Tuesday softened the city’s curfew law — stripping out penalties of jail time and fines against parents whose children are out on the streets past 11 p.m.

Council members say they made the changes to address youth violence in a more holistic manner, but some residents are skeptical that the changes will be effective.

The city’s 11 p.m. curfew applies to children ages 16 and under. The council removed penalties of 60 days in jail and $1,000 fines for parents of repeat offenders. In its place, parents or guardians will now face a 60-day probation that includes court-ordered educational courses.

City Councilman Antonio Lewis said Atlanta shouldn’t harm people with jail time over curfew violations. He also urged the community to speak up when they see young people on the streets after 11 p.m.

“This (change) is actually about promoting and enforcing curfew in a different way,” Lewis said. “After that 60-day period, there will no longer be anything in the system and, good God willing, we will have saved some souls out here.”

Council member Antonio Lewis shown during a city council meeting on Monday April 17, 2023. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The change comes after councilmember Keisha Sean Waites introduced a proposal last November that would have changed the curfew time to 7 p.m., and kept the penalties the same. Waites made the proposal after 12-year-old Zyion Charles was fatally shot on the 17th Street bridge the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Charles’ mother and grandmother gave tearful, dramatic testimony to the council after the shooting, saying they had repeatedly called for law enforcement to intervene as older men encouraged him to attempt car break-ins.

Waites’ ordinance never gained traction. Lewis said a majority on the council thought the 7 p.m. curfew was “excessive.”

The Atlanta Police Department says homicides are down 30% from this time last year, but authorities are still seeking the public’s help in curbing crime. At least 85 children under age 18 were shot in metro Atlanta last year, and at least 42 of them died from the shooting.

The council’s most recent attempts to change the curfew law were all inspired by fatal shootings of children in the city. However, not everyone agrees with the council’s approach on youth violence.

“There is not any substantial investment being made towards children in the year of the youth,” said Devin Franklin, an attorney from the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens poses for a selfie

Credit: Riley Bunch/riley.bunch@ajc.com

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Credit: Riley Bunch/riley.bunch@ajc.com

The city’s new budget, which takes effect July 1, includes more than $6 million for the city’s At-Promise Youth Centers and youth programs, as well as employment initiatives.

But Franklin told the council that it “feels like the year of the cop” instead. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is allocating more than $247 million to the police department in the fiscal year 2024 budget, and the city has committed $67 million for a new public safety training center that has garnered intense opposition throughout the city.

“It’s great to get kids back home, but let’s figure out what they have going on at home,” Franklin said. “Are they escaping abuse, are they escaping potential drug use, are we running them back into situations that can be equally harmful?”

Lewis told Franklin that mental health services will be offered to families affected by the curfew law thanks to his new ordinance. Lewis also said Black Men Build and Mothers Against Gun-Violence, among other community groups, will help “in healing the entire family.”

Atlanta resident Jimmy Hill appreciates the city’s efforts, but he’s not impressed.

A funeral is held for 12-year-old Zyion Charles on December 10, 2022. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

“It’s a small step, but I don’t think it’s enough,” Hill said.

Hill has lost two sons to gun violence, including a 21-year-old who was killed by an Atlanta police officer in 2019. The officer will soon face a murder charge in court. Hill, who also lost his 16-year-old nephew in a 2005 shooting, said the city needs to provide more role models to children because many kids either lack parents or fall victim to the influence of criminals. He said Atlanta can’t afford to lose any more community centers or health facilities, either.

“A lot of these kids got mental health problems. A lot of these kids look for love in all the wrong places. You have different facilities that were closed that could’ve helped prevented all this crime. I’m not saying it would’ve stopped crime, but it wouldn’t be this bad,” Hill said. “The city leaders are as much to blame as the parents. We’re all in this together.”

The council also passed a resolution Tuesday urging parents and guardians to keep their children home, or somewhere with adult supervision, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The council wants parents to keep their children inside on Fridays and Saturdays between of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., as well.