The sound of skateboards scraping on concrete and iron rails echoes throughout West Baltimore's Hanlon Park, as a group of kids armed with customized boards, Vans backpacks, and Monster energy drinks gather around to show off their skills. Joseph "Joey Savage" Guillen, a 16-year-old junior at Frederick Douglass High School who eats, sleeps, and breathes skateboarding, seems the most eager to impress his friends as he busts out kick-flips, grinds, and ollies on his board, which he calls "Young OG."
It's Wednesday and the sun set about two hours ago. Curfew is quickly approaching, but the group has no intention to pack up just yet.
"Curfew? Man, I just want to skate," says Guillen.
"Right bro!" his friends chorus in the background.
Guillen pulls his hat low over his eyes and gets a running start before jumping on his board to bust out another kick-flip, effortlessly jumping as Young OG spins beneath his feet.
Baltimore's revised curfew law for city youth requires kids younger than 14 to be indoors by 9 p.m. year-round, and kids 14 to 16 to be in by 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Under the old curfew law, kids under 17 could be outside without an adult until 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.
Some speculate that this new curfew law will criminalize youth and evolve into a stop-and-frisk for kids. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is adamant that the law is about protecting kids.
"This legislation will be another much needed tool to help reduce the number of juveniles on the streets at night, while furthering a commitment my administration has made to provide more services to young people we know are vulnerable," she said in a statement, as reported by The Sun in May.
But the American Civil Liberties Union isn't convinced. "The reality is the law is enforced by police, not the people who drafted the bill," says ACLU civil attorney Sonia Kumar, who fears that a law this broad will give police officers a blanket excuse to stop anyone, even children for any reason they want.
Guillen says his days pretty much operate like clock work: He wakes up, gets dressed for school, grabs Young OG, meets his boys at the corner, rolls to school, tries to stay focused in his classes, leaves school when the day is over, meets back up with his boys, and they go to whichever area they feel like ripping up. Usually, they go to Hanlon Park, Mondawmin Mall, or Coppin State University—if they don't get harassed by campus security too much.
"I just like to skate . . . I don't really care about the curfew," he says, sitting on the curb, twirling the wheels on Young OG. At the bottom of his skateboard reads "huf" in big bold letters. It's a brand-new board. He broke his old board, "Weezy," two weeks ago, along with his wrist. A small wrist injury isn't enough to keep Joey Savage off his board and neither is Baltimore's amped-up curfew law.
As he watches his friends skate around and practice tricks, he pokes at the elastic wristband on his left hand. It's a bit tattered around the edges from being worn during intense skateboarding sessions. Guillen has a lot of wristbands. "I think he collects them," says Guillen's friend Travis Scott.
Travis sits to the left of Joey, struggling to get the settings just right on a JVC Everio camera. "It's cool though," he says. "Savage has dope skills, so when he makes it I'm going to take all his wristbands and broken boards and open up the museum of Joey G. Savage and get paid!"
On the night that Guillen hurt his wrist, he says he didn't even plan on being out that late.
"I was just chilling, watching Thursday Night Football," he says. "I wasn't going to go out at first because I knew my mom wanted me to stay in but I wasn't going to be out long anyway. I knew I would be back before my sister could even tell my mom I left out."
Guillen's mom works overnight as security at Medstar Union Memorial Hospital. When she's not home, she leaves her 19-year-old daughter Rosa in charge of the house and Joey.
"I try to keep a close watch on my little brother for my mom's sake but it's really hard keeping up with him and that skateboard," says Rosa, who has a 1-year-old son who keeps her busy. She said that if her son was Joey's age he'd be abiding by curfew.
Earlier that Thursday night, the crew had been out skating and recording tricks on Coppin State's campus. Charles Holley, who is known to his friends as Pug because he owns three Chinese pugs, wanted to go back out to Coppin because he had a cool idea for a trick. He wanted Guillen to do a nose-grind kick-flip off one of the bleachers on the soccer field. He sent a text message to Travis about the trick and Travis called Guillen to get the skate session in motion.
"It was like 11 o' clock or something like that when Trav called me," says Guillen. "I knew it was after curfew but it didn't matter. It wasn't like I was going out to start trouble or anything."
"Yeah, we never go out to burn the city down," says Travis, still fumbling with the camera.
It remains unclear how officers are trained on how to enforce the curfew law. Last May when the city council approved the new curfew legislation, the ACLU questioned what instructions or new training officers would receive. For weeks Baltimore officials were evasive and did not directly address the ACLU's concerns.
"City officials owe youth, families, and the community more than mere promises that ensure police enforcement of the curfew will be different," says Kumar, who worries that the curfew law will further strain police and community relations says. "They owe us answers."
But City Councilman Brandon Scott says that there is training and it is constant. "Officers are constantly training on how to deal with youth," he says. "They are taken through Outward Bound trainings to build stronger relationships with young people. A curfew video is played during every roll call. But the best practice is for officers to have personal contact with youth."
An officer has two options in dealing with curfew violators: escort them home or take them to a curfew center. More often than not, the youth is taken back home, partially because the curfew centers are only open from 9 p.m. to about midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Currently, there are only two curfew centers open in the city, one on the east side and another on the west side.
But Guillen and his friends have never been taken to a curfew center. On the night he broke his wrist, Guillen was running, but not from the cops.
“I broke my wrist trying to do the kick-flip off the bleachers and broke my board running from campus security,” Guillen says, laughing at his own series of unfortunate events.
He was trying the overambitious trick on Coppin’s campus, which is private property, which makes the boys trespassers. He slipped trying to flip his board off the bleachers and, to avoid landing flat on his face, braced for impact reaching his arms out in front of him and driving his left hand awkwardly into the ground.
Before he could process the pain, two campus security guards were headed his way, flashlights blazing. Travis grabbed his camera and backpack and took off. Pug wasn’t far behind. Guillen, still a little discombobulated, grabbed his board with his right hand and took off. Guillen glanced over his shoulder to see if the guards were still in pursuit. They weren’t. In front of him was a small flight of stairs. He missed them, skipped a few steps, and crashed on the last step, cracking his board in the middle. It was broken board number six.
“That sucked,” Guillen says, “sucked even more that I had to go see my mom at work with a broken wrist.”
He said his mom seemed more upset that he was out skating so late than the fact he had a distal radius fracture.
“I always tell her that there is no keeping up with Joey and his board,” says Rosa. “One minute he’s falling asleep on the couch watching TV, then the next he’s out breaking bones skating somewhere in the city.”
Juanita Parks, who lives three doors down from Guillen, has three sons who are all of curfew age. “These children need a curfew and if the parents aren’t smart enough to know that then I have no problem with the city making that decision for them,” she says. Parks makes sure that her sons are in the house during curfew hours. “Ain’t nothing out in these streets for children at that time of night anyway.”
“The change in the curfew law isn’t going to make or break the issues that some communities have with the police,” says Emmanuel Kite, a retired correctional officer who believes that the curfew law provides communities with structure. “I had a curfew when I was a kid. When the streetlights came on we knew it was time to take it on in the house. It’s just the simple fact that people don’t like being told what to do . . . especially by police.”
Councilman Carl Stokes, who voted against the new curfew legislation, told WBAL-TV in August that the city is going about it all wrong. “The conversation should be about the opportunities for young people, not about what punishment we give to a few young people.” The bill was passed with a vote of 13 to 2.
Curfew hour has finally arrived. The trio of skateboarders begin to wrap up their skate session and pack up their things.
“Joey has to get home or his mom will kick his ass,” says Travis, mocking his friend.
“Shut up Travis! Don’t make me call Mrs. Sheila and have her come up to the school like last week.”
The crew busts out laughing. Travis’s mother had made a surprise visit to his homeroom class. Travis had been getting into trouble frequently in his classes because he was more concerned with showing people his YouTube channel and his crew’s sick skate sessions than focusing on his studies. His mom had come into his class and taken his phone and his precious JVC camera. He has since gotten his gadgets back but opts to show his videos during lunch period instead.
“I don’t care about the curfew,” says Guillen. “But I don’t feel like hearing my mom or Rosa’s mouths tonight, so I’m going home.” He drops his board and pulls his hat down low over his eyes. He pushes off of his right foot and rolls home. He turns around to salute a goodbye to his crew. “It’s cool,” he says. “I’ll be back out next week, when everything blows over at home.”
“Yeah we’ll be back out next week, bro,” Travis yells back.
“Skate or die!” Guillen screams halfway down the block as his silhouette fades under the dim streetlights.