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City of Chester to vote on month-long state of emergency

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The City of Chester will decide today whether to extend its state of emergency for another month. Over the weekend the mayor imposed a curfew in response to a rash of homicides.

Mayor Wendel Butler says he was spurred to action when, on the night of a vigil to mourn the shooting of a two-year-old boy, another person was killed in Chester. Soon after that there was another killing.

“I was so distraught by it,” says Butler, “because I kind of expected, when you lose a child to violence, that the criminal minded community recognizes that and things calm down. That was not the case. So I had to do something assertive.”

As tragic as the most recent killings are – four in eight days – the city of  37,000 people has been fraught with poverty and violence for years.

The sudden curfew comes just as finishing touches are being put on a Major League Soccer stadium, which will host its first game on Sunday.

The state of emergency allows police to question any pedestrian after 9 P.M., and break up groups larger than three who do not have a permit to congregate outside. No police officers will be allowed to take vacation days.

The Mayor hopes the curfew will allow police to gather intelligence on drug dealers and illegal guns.

Professor Chad Dion Lassiter of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work has been involved with Chester’s prison facilities. He says a 30-day curfew will be little more than a quick fix.

“You’re not going to be able to reduce the occurrences of violence by implementing a state of emergency that keeps people in their homes from 9 P.M. to 6 A.M.,” says Lassiter. “People need to be able to move freely in their communities, engage with their neighbors. Let’s say you do this: what happens directly after the state of emergency is lifted?”

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