Youth protection forum brings out mostly negative

Children at Youth Protection Ordinance Forum

The proposed Youth Protection Ordinance for Minors drew a little praise and a lot of criticism at a public forum yesterday evening.

Pastor Frank Sossamon ran the forum which was hosted by the committee which was charged with its development.

The Rev. Frank Sossamon

After a welcome by Sossamon and a statement of the purpose of the forum, which was to review the document and to have the public ask questions and make comments regarding it, members of the committee were introduced: Lonnie Davis, Karen Oakes, Heddie Alston-Sommerville, Candice Cash, the Reverend Brenda Peace, the Reverend John Miles, Captain Tony Clark, Jerry Moss, and the Reverend Frank Sossamon.

Youth Protection Committee members Karen Oakes, Heddie Alston-Somerville, Candice Cash, and the Rev. Brenda Peace

Attendees, approximately 120 adults and children, were then given “just a moment” by Sossamon to review distributed copies of the proposed ordinance. Afterwards, youths were dismissed with Clark, Oakes, and Alston-Sommerville to another room in the County Courthouse for a separate forum.

First to comment was Bill Edwards, President of the Henderson-Vance County Chamber of Commerce. Speaking as a representative of 400 businesses in the area, Edwards spoke to the claim that there is “nothing for young people to do in Henderson”. He stated that businesses have been brought in that cater to youth, and also that there are residual businesses that serve youth as well.

Bill Edwards, President of the Henderson-Vance County Chamber of Commerce

Edwards went on to address the restrictive hours currently called for in the ordinance, 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., Sunday through Saturday. He said that members of the Chamber had been polled and asked how these hours of restriction would affect them. Of the approximately 80 who responded, 52 said that the hours were too restrictive and would favor hours of restriction being no earlier than 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The Chamber president also mentioned to the audience that Henderson businesses and retail attract youth from Virginia who also add to the local economy. He closed his statement by asking that the committee be sensitive to the suggested hours.

Nancy Jo Smith, one of the owners and the manager of the Marketplace Cinema spoke next regarding the effect the ordinance would have on her business. She cited the purpose of the ordinance where it states that it is intended to promote safety and lauded that as a worthy goal. She went on to state that it would have a negative impact on her business.

Smith stated that she found the 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. hours of restriction reasonable on school nights. However, she noted that on Friday and Saturday nights, holidays, long weekends, summer vacation, and other days when school is not in session, that her business has “significant youth attendance”.

The theater owner asked for a 12:00 a.m. curfew on non-school nights, or for minors to be able to present a movie stub or restaurant receipt if intercepted in transit from a business to their home after hours of restriction.

Smith also raised the issue of how the ordinance is enforced on business owners. She told the audience that she already enforces federal ratings guidelines, and that this increases her costs. She claimed that the ordinance would require her to “card” every patron and she would be responsible for dealing with the additional complaints that this would bring.

“I could be fined $100 for having a fourteen year-old in a 9:00 p.m. movie,” Smith said.

She asked if her business would face a penalty for minors on the outside portion of her property during hours of restriction. She asked if she would have to patrol her parking lot and increase her payroll costs. She also asked if her business would be held responsible for minors on her property during times when it was not in operation.

Smith ended her remarks by asking why youths behaving appropriately should be punished, as well as area businesses?

Cheryl Elman, owner of Crafts on Wheels, commented that she would like to see more responsibility put on parents rather than businesses and the police. She told the audience that she lived under a curfew in Florida after the hurricane and found it very restrictive. She told the committee that the Youth Protection Ordinance should be more of a noise and disturbance ordinance.

H. Larry Elman told the committee that the ordinance affects him because it “affects everyone in this county”. He compared the ordinance to “using an elephant gun to swat a fly”.

H. Larry Elman

Elman claimed that all the ordinance accomplishes is protecting adults from noise. He asked the committee what his responsibility would be, if he were a Scout master or youth leader under the ordinance.

Characterizing the ordinance as “Draconian”, Elman stated that it was being done “unfairly and improperly”. He stated that the stress needs to be put on parenting and responsibility. He said that the ordinance is “not what the Constitution says, not the American way”.

The Reverend C.J. Dale said that “my concern has been how certain people can come in and enforce their own rules and laws”. Stating that some Henderson police officers are “blatant, racist, and brutal”, Dale said that if the ordinance is “not done right” that young African-American boys will be taken downtown and given a criminal record.

The Rev. C.J. Dale

Dale stated emphatically that he does not support the ordinance.

The controversial Reverend concluded his statement by saying that he is “tired” of seeing officers on Andrews Avenue when a black man is parked at a car wash but others can stay on Dabney Drive all night long.

Lisa Liggon related a story about her attempt to intervene in a Henderson police action involving three African-American young males being searched at a traffic stop. She stated that she was threatened with arrest when she tried to do so.

Lisa Liggon

“Vance County does have a problem with racial situations,” Liggon said.

At that point, Sossamon attempted to emphasize to the audience that comments should be relevant to the topic of the Youth Protection Ordinance. Dale and at least one other member of the audience exclaimed that Liggon’s comments were to the point. Sossamon asserted that he was chairing the meeting, and after an exchange of pleasantries, public comments continued.

Eugene Burton, a frequent advocate for community concerns in the Flint Hill neighborhood, spoke in favor of the ordinance, stating that he was in favor of such a rule a few years ago. Making reference to several recent crimes in that area of the city, the most notorious of which was the slaying of a fifteen year-old by a thirteen year-old boy, he said that he is a “scared parent and even more scared grandparent”.

Eugene Burton

Burton denied that the ordinance is a racial issue.

“This is about people,” Burton insisted. “We need protection and we need it now.”

Resident Donald Green noted that in a city with a population of 16,000, attendance at the forum was relatively light. He said that curfew should be done by the parents.

Donald Green

“If you’ve got good kids, they’ll be home,” Green told the committee.

Pastor Wesley Crews

Pastor Wesley Crews expressed appreciation for the meeting. He said it was good, but not “the best”. Crews stated his opposition to the ordinance because it takes liberty away from a lot of good kids.

“Punishment is not the answer,” Crews said.

The pastor asked how kids get guns. He asked what the police were doing about getting guns off of the street.

Crews advised the committee that they need to reconsider and come back with something else.

As the adults waited for the juveniles to rejoin the adult forum, Sossamon told the audience that the committee was open to written recommendations for its consideration before it presented the ordinance to the Henderson City Council on February 12.

Children at Youth Protection Ordinance Forum

Henderson City Council member and Youth Protection Committee member Lonnie Davis expressed his appreciation to the audience. He told the crowd not to believe “rumors” regarding why certain aspects of the ordinance came about. He also insisted that they not assume that “one person” is behind it. Davis stated that “something needs to be done”.

Henderson City Council and Youth Protection Committee member Lonnie Davis

Sossamon thanked the young people for coming and being part of the process. He characterized their portion of the forum as being “good and consistent”. He told the audience, “don’t stop the dialogue.”