This city, known for its liberalism, tolerance and racial diversity, finds itself in the thick of a social dilemma: How do you crack down on trouble-making groups of teenagers–mostly black–without violating civil rights or appearing to be racist?
In the wake of disruptions at the Coventry Street Fair on Sunday by hundreds of the teens, the city kicked into emergency mode, adopting a draconian curfew Wednesday. The new law, which took effect Thursday, prohibits anyone under 18 to be in the Coventry Village or Cedar-Lee commercial areas after 6 p.m. unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
The new curfew provides a few exceptions, such as for a minor running an errand for a parent or working in the commercial districts.
Sunday’s street fair, held between 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., attracted thousands of people from all over Greater Cleveland. About 5 p.m., large groups of the teens rushed through the crowd, pushing people over and sparking fights.
The upheaval spilled into nearby upper-middle-class, mostly white neighborhoods. Neighbors said they witnessed large groups of young black men walking in the middle of quiet, tree-lined side streets shouting profanities and racial epithets.
Someone tossed an empty liquor bottle on the sidewalk at the home of Paula Coakley on East Overlook Road. “I said, ‘Hey, you dropped something,” said Coakley. “But they just laughed and kept walking.”
Down on the corner of East Overlook and Washington Boulevard, a group of about 25 teens gathered to egg on two kids squaring off for a fistfight. Homeowner Joy Roller called the police and yelled at the gang to keep moving. She said she was met with shouts of profanity.
Roller said the police told her, “We know, it’s going on all over the city now.”
Despite wide support for the new curfew, some people are bothered by what they view as an undercurrent of racism.
Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson, acknowledging the street fair melees were triggered by young blacks, said the city’s response would have been the same if the brawlers had been white.
The county prosecutor’s office said Michael Madison of Cleveland Heights, along with his wife and two friends, were leaving Anatolia Cafe when Madison was jumped by a black teenager who was backed by other teens. The teenager, a juvenile, called to his friends, “Let’s do them.”
Madison suffered broken facial bones and had to get stitches. The teenager has been charged with felonious assault and aggravated robbery, according to a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office. The teen is scheduled for a court appearance this month.