By Taesha Poteat
The scraping sounds of skateboards on concrete and iron rails can be heard throughout Hanlon Park. A group of Baltimore youth armed with customized skateboards, Vans backpacks, and Monster energy drinks gather around to show off their skills to one another. Among the group of teens is Joseph “Joey Savage” Guillen, a vibrant teen who eats, sleeps, and breathes skateboarding. He is the most eager to impress his friends as he busts out kick-flips, grinds, and ollies on his skateboard, which he calls “Young OG”.
It’s Wednesday and the sun has set about two hours ago. Curfew is quickly approaching. However, the group has no intention to pack up just yet.
“Curfew? Man I just want to skate,” says Joey Savage.
“Right Bro!” his friends chorus in the background.
He pulls his hat low over his eyes and gets a running start before jumping on his board to bust out another kick-flip.
On August 8th 2014, Baltimore’s new curfew law for city youth took effect. This new version of the curfew law has been called one of the strictest in the country. The law requires children younger than 14 to be indoors by 9 p.m. all year round, and youths 14 to 16 must be in by 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Under the old curfew law youth under 17-years-old could be outside without an adult until 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.
Some people speculate that this new curfew law will criminalize youth and evolve into a stop-and-frisk for kids. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is adamant about the law being specifically aimed at protecting kids. “This legislation will be another much needed tool to help reduce the number of juveniles on the streets at night, while furthering a commitment my administration has made to provide more services to young people we know are vulnerable,” she said to the Baltimore Sun in May.
However, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union in Baltimore, aren’t so easily swayed by the Mayor’s words. “The reality is the law is enforced by police not the people who drafted the bill,” says ACLU civil attorney Sonia Kumar, who fears that a law this broad will give police officers a blanket excuse to stop anyone, even children for any reason they want.
Joey Savage is a 16-years-old junior at Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore. He says his days pretty much operate like clock work. He wakes up, gets dressed for school, grabs Young OG, meets his boys at the corner, rolls to school, tries to stay focused in his classes, leaves school when the day is over, meets back up with his boys, and they go to whichever area they feel like ripping up. Usually, they go to Hanlon Park, Mondawmin Mall, or Coppin State University– if they don’t get harassed by campus security too much.
“I just like to skate…I don’t really care about the curfew,” he says sitting on the curb twirling the wheels on Young OG. At the bottom of his skateboard reads “huf” in big bold letters. It’s a brand new board. He broke his old board, “Weezy”, two weeks ago, along with his wrist. A small wrist injury isn’t enough to keep Joey Savage off of his board and neither is Baltimore’s amped up curfew law.
As he watches his friends skate around and practice tricks he pokes at the elastic wristband on his left hand. It’s a bit tattered around the edges from being worn during quite a few intense skateboarding sessions. Joey has many wristbands. Some in his room. A few others scattered around the house. One or two at a friend’s house. The wristband he currently has on is the most comfortable…or the most durable.
“I think he collects them,” says Joey’s friend Travis. He sits to the left of Joey struggling a bit to get the camera settings just right on a JVC Everio camera. “It’s cool though. Savage has dope skills, so when he makes it I’m going to take all his wristbands and broken boards and open up the museum of Joey G. Savage and get paid!”
Joey’s injury to his wrist happened two weeks ago on a Thursday night, about an hour after curfew. On that particular night, Joey said he didn’t even plan on going out after curfew.
“I was just chilling watching Thursday night football. I wasn’t going to go out at first because I knew my mom wanted me to stay in but I wasn’t going to be out long anyway. I knew I would be back before my sister could even tell my mom I left out.”
Joey’s mom works overnight as security at Medstar Union Memorial Hospital. When she’s not home, she leaves her 19-year-old daughter Rosa in charge of the house and Joey.
“I try to keep a close watch on my little brother for my mom’s sake but it’s really hard keeping up with him and that skateboard,” says Rosa, who has a one-year-old son that keeps her quite busy. She said that if her son was Joey’s age he’d be abiding by curfew for sure!
Earlier that Thursday, the crew said that they had been out skating and recording tricks on Coppin State’s campus. Charles, who is known to his friends as Pug because he owns three Chinese Pugs, wanted to go back out to Coppin because he had a cool skate trick idea. He wanted Joey to do a nose grind high flying kick flip off of one of the bleachers on the soccer field. He was seemingly the quietest of the group but always had ideas for off-the-wall tricks and cool camera shots. He had sent a text message to Travis about the trick and Travis called Joey up to get the quick skate session in motion.
“It was like 11 o’clock or something like that when Trav texted me. I knew it was after curfew but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like I was going out to start trouble or anything like that,” said Joey.
“Yeah, we never go out to burn the city down,” said Travis still fumbling with the camera.
“But everybody looks at us like we’re some trouble makers when we’re just skater kids,” said Pug, who had taken a seat in front of us on his board.
“We get harassed by cops all the time just because we skate. The curfew doesn’t really make a difference. That’s why we don’t really care,” said Joey.
“It’s annoying when the cops stop us though, because they just ask the same questions and tell us to go back home,” said Travis.
“Yeah, they’ll just be like go in the house or the next time I see you you’re coming with me,” said Joey.
The boys said that they have been stopped for curfew many times. All of their stops seem to end in the same manner with the cop shooing them back home, an act similar to herding sheep into a barn.
Training for officers on how to enforce the curfew law seems to be minimal. Back in May when the city council approved the new curfew legislation, members of the ACLU questioned what instructions or new training officers would be receiving. For weeks Baltimore officials were evasive and did not directly address the ACLU’s concerns. Kumar, who worries that the curfew law will further strain police and community relations says, “City officials owe youth, families, and the community more than mere promises that ensure police enforcement of the curfew will be different. They owe us answers.”
However, City Councilmen Brandon Scott says that there is training and it is constant. “Officers are constantly training on how to deal with youth. They are taken through outward bound trainings to build stronger relationships with young people. A curfew video is played during every roll call but the best practice is for officers to have personal contact with youth.”
An officer has two options in dealing with a curfew violator; escort them home or take them to a curfew center. More often than not, the youth is taken back home, partially because the curfew centers are only open from nine to about midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Currently, there are only two curfew centers open in the city, one on the east side and another on the west side.
“I broke my wrist trying to do the kick-flip off the bleachers and broke my board running from campus security,” Joey said laughing at his own series of unfortunate events.
The trick was over ambitious for the amateur skater and the location was private property which made the boys trespassers. Joey had attempted the trick several times to no avail. On his final try, Joey decided to skip the grind and go right into the kick-flip. Joey dropped his board on the bleachers and pushed off his right foot to gain some speed.
“It wasn’t enough speed,” said Pug, “He needed more momentum.”
It was a bad take off. When Joey tried to flip his board in the air, he got off track from the bleacher and his wheels slipped off the side. To avoid landing flat on his face, Joey braced for impact reaching his arms out in front of him and driving his left hand awkwardly into the ground.
Before he could process the pain, two campus security guards came heading his way steadfast and flashlights blazing. Travis grabbed his camera and backpack and took off first. Pug wasn’t too far behind. Joey, still a little discombobulated, grabbed his board with his right hand and took off behind his crew. They headed towards North Warwick Avenue. Joey glanced over his shoulder to see if the guards were still in pursuit. They weren’t. In front of Joey was a small flight of stairs. He missed them. Tried to flip his board upward. Skipped a few steps. Crashed on the last step. His board cracked in the middle. He chalked that up as broken board number six.
“That sucked…,” Joey said, “sucked even more that I had to go see my mom at work with a broken wrist.”
He said his mom seemed more upset that he was out skating so late than the fact he had a distal radius fracture.
“I always tell her that there is no keeping up with Joey and his board. One minute he’s falling asleep on the couch watching TV, then the next he’s out breaking bones skating somewhere in the city,” said Rosa.
The boys say that they always get harassed by cops just because they are skater kids. Perhaps the biggest show and tell of the rocky relationship between cops and skaters was the YouTube video that went viral showing a Baltimore cop harassing a teen skateboarder at the Inner Harbor.
It happened back in the summer of 2007. Fourteen-year-old Eric Bush and his friends were hanging out at the Inner Harbor, when ex-police officer Salvatore Rivieri approached them. Rivieri felt like the group of teens were disrespectful and he lost his temper during the confrontation. The YouTube video shows Rivieri putting Bush in a headlock and shoving him to ground when he tries to get back up. Rivieri gets even more ticked off when Bush calls him dude and man. He then takes Bush’s skateboard and throws it in his car. The peeved off cop also has a thing or two to say about the boy’s parents.
“Obviously, your parents don’t put a foot in your butt quite enough because you don’t know the meaning of respect,” Rivieri shouts, berating the young skater, “First of all you need to learn how to speak! I’m not man or dude! I am officer Rivieri!”
The video has since reached over six million views on YouTube. Due to the popularity of the video, Baltimore officials were forced to deal with the issue. More than two years after the video was uploaded to the Internet, a disciplinary panel cleared Rivieri of the most serious charges of excessive force and language. However, he was guilty of not writing a police report and was eventually fired from the job. In early 2011, a circuit court judge upheld police commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III’s decision to fire Rivieri.
“His ability to interact effectively with the citizens of Baltimore has been seriously compromised,” said Bealefeld.
Situations like these are exactly what parents, people in the community, and organizations like the ACLU fear the curfew law will foster for minors. Kumar says the curfew law is just another glorified idea by city officials that looks great on paper but doesn’t equal up in reality. “The city is making policies not based on evidence but based on ideas that sound good. It also feeds into the school to prison pipe pipeline, perpetuating the mentality of youth that they are seen as criminals.”
Councilmen Brandon Scott wonders where all these curfew activist were when the original law was passed in 1978 and amended in 1994. “No one complained back then…They were silent. Nothing has changed on the enforcement wise, just the hours. So when I propose a change in the hours it becomes a big deal.”
“These children need a curfew and if the parents aren’t smart enough to know that then I have no problem with the city making that decision for them,” said Juanita Parks, a resident of the area who lives three doors down from Joey. She has three sons who are all of curfew age. Parks makes sure that her sons are in the house during curfew hours. “Ain’t nothing out in these streets for children at that time of night anyway.”
“The change in the curfew law isn’t going to make or break the issues that some communities have with the police,” says Emmanuel Kite. He is a retired correctional officer who believes that the curfew law provides communities with structure. “I had a curfew when I was a kid. When the streetlights came on we knew it was time to take it on in the house. It’s just the simple fact that people don’t like being told what to do…especially by police.”
Councilman Carl Stokes, who voted against the new curfew legislation, told WBALTV in August that the city is going about it all wrong. “The conversation should be about the opportunities for young people, not about what punishment we give to a few young people.” The bill was passed with a vote of 13 to 2.
“My commitment to identifying and helping Baltimore’s most vulnerable children involves getting them out of harm’s way and into a safe environment. This new curfew legislation is about ensuring that our children are given the proper resources to prevent them from becoming the victims or perpetrators of violent crime,” the Mayor told the Baltimore Sun in May..
Curfew hour has finally arrived. The trio of skateboarders begin to wrap up their skate session and pack up their things.
“Joey has to get home or his mom will kick his ass,” said Travis mocking his friend.
“Shut up Travis! Don’t make me call Mrs. Sheila and have her come up to the school like last week,” Joey countered.
The crew burst out into laughter at the embarrassing episode Travis had to endure when his mother had made a surprise visit to his homeroom class. Travis had been getting into trouble quite frequently in his classes because he was more concerned with showing people his YouTube channel and his crew’s sick skate sessions than focusing on his studies. His mom had came into his class, took his phone and his precious JVC camera. He has since gotten his gadgets back but opts to show his videos during lunch period instead.
“I don’t care about the curfew,” said Joey, “But I don’t feel like hearing my mom or Rosa’s mouths tonight, so I’m going home.” Joey dropped his board and pulled his hat down low over his eyes. He pushed off of his right foot and proceeded to roll on home. He turned around to salute a goodbye to his crew. “It’s cool. I’ll be back out next week, when everything blows over at home.”
Pug and Travis returned Joey’s salutation.
“Yeah we’ll be back out next week bro!” said Travis.
Pug nodded, a sign of his attendance to next week’s skate session as well.
“Skate or die!” Joey screamed halfway down the block as his silhouette faded under the dim streetlights.