Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trenton Churches to Participate in Youth Detention for Curfew Violations?

Sample tweet:
Trenton NJ Churches as Locations for Detention of Youth Curfew Alleged Violators?  #DecarcerateNJ 

Responding to the plan to use churches in Trenton as holding areas for juvenile curfew violators. Rev.Lukata Mjumbe of the Mercer County Interfaith Organization made the following Facebook comment:

As a Pastor I must say this is a TERRIBLE idea. Attendance at a service of WORSHIP should not ever be a punishment. The fact that this is designed as a state mandated punitive strategy makes this one of the WORST ideas I've heard in some time. Who are the "local pastors" endorsing this initiative???

I certainly appreciate the value that a young person and their family could receive as a result of participating in the life of the Church. I also have strongly encouraged parents to bring their struggling children to activities of the Church so that they can get the help they often need. Church should be engaging, a source vibrant inspiration and encouragement, a "house of prayer " ---- not a house of detention.

If the City and the Church is concerned about our young people out late at night, there is a long history of "midnight basketball" and other initiatives to replicate or expand upon. Fund it. Support it. Build it. Sometimes so-called solutions are more dangerous than the problems. #‎medicinecankillyou/”

The questions I have about this policing / detention role of churches:

Are the detained "free to go" ? Whose custody are they in? The police's? The city's? The church's? What kind of legal designation must the church get to participate in the program? Is it designated as a holding cell? What is the legal agreement that allows the church to serve as a defacto holding cell? Do the churches become police substations legally?  Do the minister's and volunteers get some sort of deputization? What if the parents / guardians do not come for a day or two?  What if there are discipline issues at the church or the juvenile tries to leave?  Will juveniles be confined in some way to a designated area?  Locked?  Cuffed?  Shackled?  If not – what if he tries to leave?  What measure of force will be used and by whom to enforce the detention?

Other questions I have are about the counseling provided - will police witness the counseling sessions and will the Pastors and volunteer counselors and supervisors of the detention operations relay what they hear to the police?  Will the sessions be used as evidence gathering?

The article seems to use as justification for this policy – among other things – that:

On Wednesday, police responded to a report of a Trenton High West student bringing a gun to school.”

John Burns, who is a Black Lives Matter-NJ organizer, who advocates for a civilian review boards for police misconduct comments on the report – saying it was more of a rumor

While there are certainly legitimate community concerns around teen crime issues in Trenton, using a rumor to bolster the case for the use of churches as holding facilities for curfew violators is slanty journalism.

John Burns states:

Evidently, this was more shoddy reporting from the Trentonian... word on the 'professional' street is that the alleged gun was a rumor. No gun was found... just another example of the lengths the Trentonian goes in their consistent sexual-racialized media bias in criminalizing the Youth in Trenton... Using fear and speculation to sell their rag!!! The majority of our Trenton youth are good kids facing enormous odds caused by generational poverty...

Due to elitist, regional, sexual, and racialized political cultural biases, many of our kids are not even considered when it comes to economic recruitment from the consortium of businesses in the surrounding Trenton-Princeton area (outside of sports and military service). We have tons of kids that get accepted into colleges and other institutions, moreover, they are excelling! Our successes are often not published on the front page. As a consequence of poverty and the stigmatization of violence, Trenton has a problem with generational talent retention.

This is not to say that we do not have issues to address here in Trenton, but most of them are class poverty issues that have been compounded by the vertical and horizontal violence of racism, heterosexism, and other forms of sexist constructs. However, the paradox of not being able to attract and hold talent; simultaneously, not having many resources to nurture the most optimum experience for our youth is not an easy hurdle to jump. Plus, the hostile (mostly stagnant) economic global environment is not making it easy for anyone, let alone deindustrialized impoverished inner cities. And floating in the background of Trenton is a failed gentrified historio-schema and a future one brewing... shhh.

The Trentonian is part of the problem... their hold over the Trenton media market and the cultural stigma that results from their haphazard sensational reporting over Trenton needs to be addressed through community actions or a stiff market solution... Don't believe the HYPE! Strike! The Trentonian! The dependability of the Trentonian's service to the community is compromised by their cheapjack reporting... “

Commenting specifically on this proposal, John Burns states:

This violates Church separated from State.... what do you do with the non-religious, Muslims, Jews, Orisha worshippers? What churches indeed? I know the Mayor is using Kingdom over on the West campus for counseling and services that should be funded by the state... How do we have a Mayor that can't respect one of the simplest tenets of the constitution? Isn't he a former municipal worker? How can we expect the police to respect the Constitution if the Mayor doesn't even respect the constitution?”

Katie Mulligan, also of United Mercer Interfaith Organization states:

Curfew enforcement is going to surface tensions and violence in all kinds of ways.
Some of these kids are going to run when they see police (not illegal), and we are going to see more violence used to stop them. Curfew is a set up.

As I used to sass at my mother, anything you don't want me doing after curfew I can easily do before. And I did.

Houses of worship should be open for sanctuary, a place to rest, assistance, water, bathrooms. So should community centers and libraries. I'd be pretty happy about a coffee shop open past 5pm.

But that should all be voluntary. Youth shouldn't be getting picked up just for being out. Shouldn't be criminalized for wanting to wander on a summer night.

Curfew won't fix anything. Opening up activities and sanctuary might. But not with police stationed to process curfew violations and detain youth.”

The moves to enforce the curfew have the potential of increasing frictions between police and the youth of Trenton.  This use of the church as holding area is an attempt to minimize concerns over what could end up transpiring from the policies.  It can result in further criminalization of Trentons youth.  NJ is a state where a Black resident is 12 times as likely to catch a prison sentence as a white resident.  This plan seems to invite religious participation as a façade to cover increasing police repression of Trenton youth.

It turns out that there is a question if the curfew law itself is even legal as a NJ curfew law in West New York, NJ has been overturned in Superior Court.

DC group that supports church-state separation sends letter opposing curfew / church plan:


  1. Total violation of 1st amendment -

    Ironically I've been doing this ( getting youth off street) and the city and police have harassed me for it.

    Most of these "pastors" support the governments war on drugs - which is the real cause of trentons problems

  2. and some of the pastors are protesting this move.