When Jessica Wood, a 17-year-old from Baylor School, was walking with her friends at Hamilton Place mall on a Friday night, a mall cop spotted her and immediately came to escort her out of the building.
Like so many teenagers in the area, Wood had unwittingly broken one of the several unaccompanied-minor restrictions across Chattanooga.
Since March 2001, security officers at Hamilton Place mall have barred anyone under 18 from shopping unaccompanied past 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Since then, many Chattanooga-area facilities have followed suit in prohibiting unaccompanied minors from using their premises as a way to curb suspicious activity.
On March 29, the Chattanooga City Council passed Ordinance 12493, making it unlawful for any person under the age of 18 to use Coolidge Park between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. without adult supervision.
Police Chief Bobby Dodd asked the council to consider the measure after the March 19 shootings at Coolidge Park that involved a mass meeting of youths and was reportedly connected to gang activities.
Chattanooga City Council Chairman Manuel Rico, of District 7, said, “There was a lot going on with the older guys [related to gang activity], so we just wanted to protect the younger guys from being involved with this stuff.”
Nevertheless, said Rico, “Most folks won’t be bothered. In the police force, they have something called commonsense profiling. So they won’t check everyone.”
Rave Motion Pictures, once a popular teenage destination on Friday nights, also now bans any person under 18 from entering a movie that starts after 8 p.m. without supervision by someone 25 or older.
“I don’t understand the difference between teenagers going during the day and going at night. A rebellious kid is going to do the same things no matter when he goes to the movies,” said Tyler Blevins, 16, a Dade County High School student.
Parents, however, see promise in certain curfew laws.
“Until the problems at Coolidge are controlled, I don’t think teenagers need to be there after dark,” said Elena Haskew, a Chattanooga-area mother of three. “Nothing good happens that late at night.”
Jessica, of Baylor, said teens can’t help but feel left out of the conversation as adult policymakers hand down restrictions.
“They assume if you are not a legal adult you are a threat [and] if you are an adult you are not a problem,” she said.
Tyler Blackmon is a student at Baylor School.