Two junior high students sat inside the entrance to Coolidge Park just after 6 p.m. Saturday as one teen’s aunt walked the area.
A bit farther inside, several high school boys were throwing around a football, enjoying one of the first nice Saturdays of the year while one of their parents relaxed elsewhere in the park.
But a group of 17-year-olds on the other side of the park was there without an adult presence. That violates a new city ordinance banning minors between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless they are with an adult, but the teens quietly sitting in the grass said they didn’t know they were flouting the law.
“Not everybody’s doing something wrong,” Caleb Derusha said. “Now everybody’s paying.”
Derusha and his two friends hadn’t heard about the ordinance passed by the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday. They called the rule “stupid” but said if officers asked them to leave, they’d comply.
The ordinance was created in response to a March 19 brawl involving hundreds of teens during which shots were fired.
Two officers patrolling the area Saturday said juveniles like Derusha shouldn’t have anything to worry about. As long as teens aren’t causing problems, they said, officers aren’t likely to approach them.
“It’s just one of those discretion things,” Officer James Vinson said. “It just gives the police department another tool to fight unruly juveniles.”
Vinson and Officer Bryan Moody said they dislike the ordinance’s requirement that police drive violators to a holding center in St. Elmo with food and entertainment where teens wait for their parents.
“If they’re causing problems here, we’re supposed to take them someplace they can play video games?” Moody said. “If they’re causing trouble one place, why take them somewhere else? It’s not going to make them not cause trouble.”