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Out of Time

City Council proposes toughened curfew laws; mayors try prayer.

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Fifteen-year-old Brittany Neal says "there's no possible way" a 9 p.m. city-imposed curfew would work for her.

The Harding Academy student plays on her school's basketball team, and games frequently let out past 9 p.m. And when she gets her driver's license, she won't always have a parent with her after the game.

But if some City Council members have their way, the city curfew will be changed to 9 p.m. for all minors. Currently, children under 17 have to be inside by 10 p.m.; 17-year-olds have to be home by 11 p.m.

At an emergency City Council meeting last week -- called in response to a recent spate of violent child fatalities -- council member Tom Marshall announced the curfew proposal. The council is expected to vote on it at the July 11th meeting.

Under the proposal, five or six school gymnasiums would be used as holding centers for curfew violators. Offenders would be held there until their parents came to get them.

Marshall said that although most of the recent child violence has occurred during the daytime, a tougher curfew law could still help.

But council member E.C. Jones questioned whether the new curfew would be enforceable, claiming that the city doesn't have officers to enforce the current curfew laws.

"We have people who have to wait two to three hours for a police officer to come to an accident," said Jones.

Memphis Police director Larry Godwin later said that the department would be ready for a tightened curfew.

"Our department is manned by competent professionals," said Godwin. "We would answer the council's call to service."

He said youth are routinely detained under the city's curfew ordinance, often resulting in a juvenile summons or physical arrest. Shanika Batts, who was in the car with her sister, 19-year-old Antionette Horton, when Horton shot 13-year-old Melissa Robinson in the head last week, received a curfew violation in 2002 when she was 15.

Nineteen-year-old Ezra Wheeler, a graduate of White Station High School, attended Wednesday's council meeting.

"Call me crazy, but I doubt that anyone who would shoot someone in broad daylight would seriously fear the repercussions of being caught outside too late," said Wheeler.

He said it comes down to better parenting, "a solution neither the City Council nor any outside organization can implement."

Others at the meeting echoed similar concerns. When Horton shot Robinson, her mother was in the car wielding a baseball bat.

"How do you tell a parent to do something different with their child when they're off doing drugs themselves?" asked Jones.

Since the city and county governments cannot regulate parenting, they've turned to another "solution": prayer. Mayors A C Wharton and Willie Herenton co-sponsored a prayer rally last Friday and declared it a Day of Prayer.

About 300 citizens packed the Civic Center Plaza on the Main Street Mall to listen to area religious leaders speak. Wharton said he hopes to see the city "return to the City of Good Abode."

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