By Sarah Wagner
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn (UTC/TheLoop) —Chattanooga’s scenic Coolidge Park was once considered a beautiful and safe place to exercise, spend time with family, or just enjoy oneself. In light of somewhat recent events, though, it has become a place known for flash mobs, gunfire, and violence. The Chattanooga City Council, however, has made a recent change they hope will regain the park’s positive image.
According to Brittnee Reece, a UTC junior from Murfreesboro, a family place such as Coolidge Park should have never gotten so bad. “A park like Coolidge should be a safe environment,” she said. “Not a shooting range for gangs or other criminals.”
The violence in Coolidge Park began a year ago on March 27. In that incident, guns were fired and five people were injured—three adults and two juveniles. They were all shot in the legs with none of their injuries considered life threatening. That event, however, wasn’t the last one like it.
More recently, on March 19, 2011, a similar incident happened. Hundreds of teenagers were in the park that Saturday when fights broke out and gunshots were fired. Although once again, no deaths resulted, several arrests were made.
All this violence in such a popular area has some of the Chattanooga locals worried. Ashley Quarles, a 22-year-old resident born and raised in Chattanooga, said that Coolidge Park was once her favorite area in the city, and now it is ruined by violence. “If it’s not during the day, I feel like I can’t even go there,” she said. “I just do not feel safe there at night anymore.”
The Chattanooga City Council and the Chattanooga Police department have taken measures to reduce violence in the park. On Tuesday, March 29, the council approved 7-2 an ordinance that will ban minors from Coolidge Park without adult supervision between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Further, they stipulated that “adult supervision” was to be a parent, legal guardian, or an adult aged 21 or over.Click here to listen to the Chattanooga City Council approve the measure.
Although this ordinance was put in motion in order to help the violent situation, some Chattanooga residents are highly skeptical of how much it will help. “There has been a lot of violence going on recently in Chattanooga, and it hasn’t just been minors involved,” Quarles said. Some local residents are also unhappy with the ordinance because they feel that it sends a false message. There is violence going on all over the city, not just Coolidge Park, they said. Some have asked for a blanket ordinance for the whole city like the one put in place for the park, but nothing has happened with that yet.
As for the minors who disobey the ordinance and are found inside the park without adult supervision during the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., a detention facility is in the works. Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 that violate the curfew will be picked up by an officer and taken to the former police precinct attached to the South Chattanooga Recreation Center on 40th Street in St. Elmo. Parents will be contacted and the teenagers will be held until an adult picks them up. Teenagers won’t face formal charges for ordinance violations, but they will be referred to Juvenile Court, where their parents could be fined $50. Children 12 and under will be referred to child services if they’re picked up, and their parents could be charged with child neglect.