State Sen Shirley Smith (D-21), a Cleveland Democrat whose district includes Cleveland Hts. and parts of the City of Cleveland. Smith has said to date that she has not taken a position pro or con on the Cleveland Hts curfew law, one that allows police to arrest children under 18 for eating a sandwich at select restaurants or otherwise patronizing select businesses in the city after 6 pm, and one that has rocked the Cleveland Hts community, drawing a countywide discussion on the constitutional and statutory rights of children, Black children in particular.
From the Metro Desk of the Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog.Com (www.kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com)
About 25 activists and other greater Cleveland community members from various groups such as The Imperial Women, Stop Targeting Ohio's Poor, The Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network, The Cleveland Chapter of The New Black Panther Party, The Family Connection Center, The Carl Stokes Brigade and Black on Black Crime met with State Sen. Shirley Smith (D-21) around the controversial Cleveland Hts curfew law yesterday evening at The Coffee House University Circle on Juniper Rd in Cleveland.
Smith's office number is 614- 466-4857.
Among the group were Cleveland Hts parents and child activists, one of whom attended the June 26 Cleveland Hts Street Fair on Coventry Rd. where a flash mob of some 1500 mainly Black children joined the crowd of some 10,000 people.
"They released the dogs on them without any misbehavior," the child activist said, referencing the street fair event that days later prompted Cleveland Hts City Council to adopt a curfew law that activists say targets Black children, is unconstitutional to children in general, and is an overreach of governmental authority. A few fights did occur though, but not enough to justify bringing out the police dogs, activists say.
Imperial Women leader Kathy Wray Coleman, who led the meeting with Smith, whose district includes Cleveland Hts and parts of Cleveland, said that community activists would continue to protest until a Cleveland Hts city ordinance or curfew law that allows police to pick and choose whether they will arrest children under 18 caught eating a sandwich or otherwise patronizing a strip of businesses on Coventry Rd and other select areas of the city after 6 pm without a parent or guardian is lifted. The law also demands that children contact police before any protest on issues of public concern, a mandate that activists say violates the First Amendment's right of peaceful assembly and its guarantee of free speech without retaliatory sanctions by government officials.
Smith stepped in right away and told Coleman and the activists that a compromise is needed and that any scheduled protests should be delayed until she meets with Cleveland Hts. Mayor Edward Kelley on the group's concerns.
The group members agreed, including Coleman, though Priscilla Cooper said that Kelley had gone too far in allegedly telling mainstream media outlets that the city ordinance was adopted to address alleged misbehavior by poor inner city African-American children , a statement that Smith said Coleman should research and get back to her on. Coleman then asked those in attendance if they believe that race is a prevalent factor to the detriment of Black children relative to the curfew law amendment, and most said yes.
Activists also agreed that the law is unconstitutional for various reasons, including that there is no rational basis for a 6 pm curfew on teenagers, though it only pertains to patronizing select city restaurants and other select businesses, in spite of a misconception by some that it precludes children under 18 from going out of the house unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Smith said that she was open to dealing with both sides of the controversy and the activists said that they had requested to meet with her because of her history of pushing legislation for the betterment of the larger community and for the Black community in particular. The activists had protested Monday before the regular Cleveland Hts City Council meeting, and took their concerns inside to the meeting afterwards.
Valerie Robinson, a White Cleveland Hts residents and a member of The Imperial Women and Stop Targeting Ohio's Poor who at the Cleveland Hts City Council meeting on Monday accused council of targeting Black children for "walking while being Black,"
said the curfew law should be repealed by council, and so did practically everybody else in attendance at Tuesday's grassroots meeting.
Smith has not taken a stand pro or con on the curfew issue and activists did not push her to, one way or another, at least not yet.
The discussion got so entrenched that a young White male at the coffee shop joined in and said that Cleveland Hts police target Black children regularly and in an unfair manner. He said he was at the street fair at issue and saw the flash mob, a term used to define a large number of people that congregate in one place, suddenly and via social media. He said that he left before he could ascertain any details, but the student activist at the meeting said that the gathering was for the most part peaceful and that police had really reacted to the fear of seeing so many Black children in one place at one time, though it was clear that complaints of some teenage misbehavior have plagued parts of the predominantly White middle class city that is approximately 42 percent Black.
In the end the group asked Smith to address the following issues with Kelley:
-The need for council to immediately repeal the curfew law since it was adopted to address an event like the Judge 26 Street Fair rucus that is less likely to recur and because it targets Black children and is unconstitutional
-The necessity of more sensitivity training for Cleveland Hts police.
-The possibility of a city boycott of local businesses
-The possibility of a lawsuit on the constitutionality of the issue following Coleman's discussion with famed Cleveland Constitutional Attorney Avery Friedman, who has a legal analysis show that runs at noon on Saturday's on CNN, a nationally televised cable news network.
"There are potential constitutional issues as to the curfew law," Friedman told Coleman prior to Tuesday's meeting with Smith.
Smith thanked the group and group members thanked her for meeting. She said that she would get back with them next Monday on her meeting with Kelley.
Abdul Qahhar, leader of The Cleveland Chapter of The New Black Panther Party and a leader, along with Community Activist Sharon Danann, of The Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network, said that while the city ordinance hurts Blacks, Black parents must step to the plate and participate more in the discussion process around the unprecedented curfew law.
"We need Black parents at the table," he said.
In addition to those named above others participating include Griot Y-Von, William Clarence Marshall, Angelique Cunningham, Willie Stokes, Shardae, Keta and Angelique Cunningham Jr., Stewart Robinson, Brett Jackson, Denise Taylor, Frances Caldwell and Nia Perry-Richardson.
The activists are not alone in their fight. The Cleveland Chapter of the NAACP and the Ohio Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have come aboard saying the curfew law is unconstitutional and hurts the Black community.
Journalist and Community Activist Kathy Wray Coleman can be reached at 216-932-3114 and email@example.com.