Freedom? Oh, freedom, that's just some people talking.
-- The Eagles
Albany City Manager James Taylor is in the middle of one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenarios that tend to break lesser men.
After mostly unsupervised teenagers ran wild at recent community Christmas and Fourth of July events downtown, many in the city shouted that they'd reached their "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" breaking point. Looking for somewhere or someone at whom they could direct their anger, the citizens demanded city officials take drastic action.
Taylor heard the cry.
Tuesday morning, the city manager unveiled a plan that can only be described as drastic: A 6 p.m. curfew on days of special downtown events that would require anyone under the age of 21 to be in the presence of a parent or adult until 6 the next morning. Those who do not have ID proof of age would be, under an ordinance proposed by Taylor and being considered by the Albany City Commission, subject to being taken into police custody and held until a parent or adult comes to secure their release.
Both the under-21 detainee and his or her parents could be subject to charges.
Questioned about the severity of the curfew, Taylor said, "Do I think this proposal is the answer to all our problems? No, I'd be idiotic to think that. This is one option. One of the other options is to do nothing, and I refuse to do that."
Ward 3 Commissioner Christopher Pike was critical of the proposal.
"What we'd be doing is, essentially, turning our police force into a babysitting service," he said. "The problem here is our inability to manage a crowd, not the crowd itself. If we're going to do large-scale events, we've got to figure out how to manage crowds."
Taylor said the city plans to eventually turn land previously used for the county-run First Tee program into an event venue that would pave the way for more easily contained, and thus more easily patrolled and controlled, events. Until then, he said, he proposed the aggressive plan used successfully by police in cities like Detroit.
When some suggested the strict curfew would curtail the number attending events downtown, Taylor said that's a trade-off he's OK with.
"Decline in attendance is a problem I'm willing to accept," he said. "My job is to protect the citizens (who attend such events) who are well-behaved."
Pike's and Ward 2 Commissioner Ivey Hines' -- who noted, "What you're saying is that no college students are welcome at our events. That seems strenuous to me from a parent's perspective." -- well-taken and certainly viable objections notwithstanding, the question now becomes how the community will react to Taylor's proposed special events ordinance.
If local parents are indeed charged with making sure that their children -- including 18-, 19- and 20-year-old college-age young men and women -- are in compliance with the new law, even to the point of having to be there with them, are they going to be willing to do their part? Or are some of those same ones who were crying loudest about the city's lost control during community events going to be as outspoken when they realize they now have a part in this?
Personally, I'm frightened at the "Big Brother" implications this heightened curfew suggests. Also, as Pike said, "I know when I was 17 or 18, I didn't want to hang around with my parents during an event like Mardi Gras."
But more than that, I'm saddened that our city has devolved to the point that officials -- those who refuse to give in to the few who would ruin community events for everyone -- feel it necessary to take such measures. My distaste, though, does not erase reality.
And the reality is, parents in the community have insisted that city officials do something to protect them from the young people those same parents are supposed to be raising. It'll be interesting to see if they're as prepared to do their part as they were to complain.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.