On Sept. 16 at 9 p.m., a group of young men gather in an alley near North Castle and Orleans streets, directly beside 16-year-old Dejon Durham’s family home, just like their older brothers did before them.
They’re across from the Citgo station that acts as the neighborhood convenience store, and right in the middle of a bundle of townhomes.
The new curfew, which went into effect last August, requires children younger than 14 to be inside by 9 p.m. Durham, a sophomore at Patterson High School, isn’t happy about it.
“The curfew just holdin’ us back,” he says.
Durham was raised on Orleans Street and he doesn’t like the fact that Baltimore officials are trying to tell him and his friends when they can and cannot come out of their homes. The alley is one of a few neighborhood hangouts, including “The Yard” and “The Pit,” places his older brothers established.
“If you been somewhere for a long time, built something,” says Durham. “They not gon’ abide by somebody’s 10 o’ clock, 11 o’ clock curfew.”
To be more specific, The Yard is just that, a yard, but to these boys it represents much more. The rowhouses don’t have full backyards, so this “yard” is a little different than the average one. The area is fenced and there is a gazebo and table, which is surrounded by a dozen chairs. According to Durham, they all gather in The Yard to hang out and do homework.
The Pit, built by Durham and his older brother, is located in the back of an abandoned house. “This pit got history,” says Durham. “We ain’t decorate it, but it’s ours.” A tiny closed-off concrete space with nothing inside but a couple of chairs and a pile of garbage and broken furniture in one corner, it seems empty, but according to these boys it is anything but. This is the area where they hash out their problems and it’s also where they originally formed their bond, according to Durham.
When picking up the children who break the curfew laws, the police officers aren’t supposed to treat them as criminals. They aren’t supposed to put them in handcuffs, load them into police cars, or handle them with any type of force. According to the city officials, the interaction is supposed to be friendly and harmless.
Durham and his friends are skeptical.
“They not supposed to get physical with you, but, nah, we know what’s gon’ happen,” says Durham. “It’s the same thing every day; the police don’t care.”
When asked what they would do if a police officer tried to pick them up for breaking the curfew law, the answer was unanimous: They would all run.
The boys end their night in The Yard. With the occasional bug buzzing by and the sound of footsteps coming near and passing by, they continue to laugh, joke, and listen to music on their iPhones. At one point, Durham logs onto his Instagram and passes around photos of himself and his girlfriend.
Even though cars and other residents can be heard passing by, nothing comes close to breaking the easy banter. The boys typically stay out to about midnight and go inside, they say.
The boys say the curfew is meant to keep them from slinging drugs and gangbanging, but they already decided that that’s not that type of life that they want to live.
“We all tryna make it out, for real,” says Durham. “These streets, for real, that’s where it’s not at, for real.”