Toinette Foster wasn't happy when she learned her son had been picked up for a curfew violation, but she wasn't pleased with the way police treated her either.
During the first Saturday of spring break, Foster's son, 13-year-old Jyel, was picked up by a Portland police officer about 15 minutes after the 10:15 p.m. weekend curfew on his way back from a Gresham skate park. It was the teen's birthday celebration and Foster said it was one of the only times she's let him go out on his own.
"I understand what they're trying to do," she said. "It also upsets me. I feel our kids were targeted unfairly."
Jyel was one of seven children under the age of 15 picked up for curfew violations this spring break whose parents were issued a Failure to Supervise a Child citation. The curfew crack down was part of a pilot program that used a state law to target parents officers felt had not taken adequate measures to make sure their children were inside before Portland's curfew.
The enforcement area was limited to Northeast and Central precincts. While all five of the cited mothers — all African American – plead no contest in juvenile court on Tuesday, many felt they had taken significant steps to control their children.
"Yes, my son was out after curfew," Matriessa Allen said. "But it's not fair to parents … My son was at my mother's home … I had no knowledge he was out."
Another parent, Tasheema Thomas, said her son lied about his whereabouts the night he was picked up.
"If they get a ticket, the ticket should be in their name," she said. "A parent can only do so much."
But Northeast Neighborhood Deputy District Attorney Jim Hayden, the program's main sponsor, said the citation is not meant to be punitive, it is meant to help. For the first citation, families are invited to the GREAT Families program – an established program aimed at improving family communication and cooperation. During a second appearance, the parent could face up to a $720 fine, although Hayden said judges are being urged to order community service or more parenting classes. If a parent fails to show up in court, they could face a $720 default judgment and a Failure to Appear citation.
Regena Williams, director of North West Country Community Outreach, located at 4906 N.E. Martin Luther King Blvd. She has been concerned about late-night youth activity and wants to help families work with their children.
"What are parents doing?" Williams said. "When are we going to start taking ownership?"
During an independent Police Review Commission meeting last week, members questioned if race was a factor in the pilot program. All of the children picked up during the spring break crack down were Black boys and all of the parents cited were Black mothers.
But supporters of the curfew say it shouldn't matter if a youth's skin color is brown, black or white, parents need to know where their children are at night. Richard Brown, a Northeast Portland community activist and member of the Chief's Forum, said he was doing a ride-a-long with a police officer the first Friday during the spring break pilot program. While it wasn't his idea to target the Northeast and Central precincts – he wanted to implement the program citywide – the crowds of youth on the streets were 99 percent Black.
"I don't know what you expect to find when you patrol a predominately Black neighborhood," Brown said. "I'm not so concerned targeting went on."
Complaints of large groups of unsupervised youths causing trouble have come from Black community members such as Brown, which lead Hayden to suggest a different strategy to deal with youths. The program was first implemented in Silverton, Ore., a town of several thousand, to help get kids off the street at night. Hayden admits what worked in a small town might not necessarily work in Portland.
But Brown and Hayden said they are just trying to get parents the help they need to control their children. And holding them responsible just might work, Brown said.
Hayden said officers from around the city are requesting the power to implement the program in all of Portland's precincts. The pilot program is on hiatus until its effectiveness can be determined, but Hayden "would be surprised if it wasn't implemented elsewhere."
Hayden hopes city leaders will take the program citywide.
Retired Police Lieutenant Harry Jackson said parents should face up to their responsibilities, and added that large groups of youth create problems for safety and enforcement. Finding three troublemakers out of 100 is difficult for police, Jackson – who doesn't believe racial profiling occurred in this case — said.
"It's tough but it's fair," Jackson said. "It didn't distinguish between races."