Race fuels discussion as city council waits on expanding curfew

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The public safety committee of the city council wants to wait for more information before expanding the city's 9 p.m. summer curfew.

The split vote came after an hour of debate. The conversation was diverted at one point into a conversation about race in policing.

One council member alleges that all 34 summons written between June and December of last year were issued to black teens.

In 2011 the council instituted a 9 p.m. curfew in five entertainment districts around the city -- The Plaza, Westport, Zona Rosa, downtown and the 18th and Vine Jazz district. Under the ordinance, children younger than 18 are not allowed to be out in those areas without adult supervision after 9 p.m, with exceptions for children working, on emergency errands or participating in city, church, or school-sponsored activities.

The curfew is only in effect between Memorial Day and Labor Day

On Wednesday, city councilwoman Jan Marcason, whose district includes the Plaza, presented an ordinance that would make the 9 p.m. curfew year-round.

Committee members raised questions over the cost of extending the curfew, the potential drain on police resources and whether it would effectively reduce crime and improve public safety in the entertainment districts. 

But the debate took a controversial turn when councilman Jermaine Reed introduced a chart, produced by his office with police data, that showed that in the months between June and December of 2012, all 34 summons issued by police for curfew violations were to black teens.

"I' m concerned that we'll make this into a race issue -- that we're targeting African American young people in our communities," Reed said.

Reed's comments caught the attention of Mayor Sly James, who was watching the proceedings remotely, and who appeared in the chamber minutes after Reed spoke, in part to defend the police department against what he said was the insinuation of biased work.

"The purpose of the statement in my mind was that somehow the police had segmented out a population and decided only to write them tickets. I'm not willing to leave that impression to people without more and additional facts," the mayor said, referring to Reed's remarks. "You may be right at the end, the number is inescapable, but i don't want people to say that the police officers involved were picking on black kids."

James also effectively threw cold water on the day's proceedings, which already seemed headed for delay, so council members could gather more information from police. 

With only Plaza developer Highwoods in attendance to represent the five entertainment districts, the  mayor called for all the stakeholders in the debate to weigh-in so a viable, long-term solution to problems on the Plaza could be found.

"I would urge this council to look at doing something that maybe we should have done before, and that is find a way to bring all the necessary parties to the table and see if we can't work out a solution that has the input of all those folks, and then everybody will be on the same page," James said. 

"And then maybe we can get past the racial stuff and start solving the problems of kids being where they shouldn't be."

Shortly after James' remarks, the committee members voted to hold further debate about extending the curfew in three weeks' time.

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