LEWISTON — The way Brandon Baumgardner figures it, a curfew might not solve all of the problems in downtown Lewiston. But it might solve a few, at least temporarily.
“I don’t see it as a permanent measure,” the 20-year-old said Wednesday night, an hour before the new 10 p.m. curfew went into effect in Kennedy Park. “But it might help for the time being.”
A couple of hours before the 10 p.m. curfew rolled around, many people were scattered across the park. Some sat on logs and smoked, a few ate sandwiches and chips and several pushed children in strollers.
“It’s kind of sad that they have to force people out of the park,” said Isabella Dunlop, 19. “It might help a little bit, but it seems like we should focus on what the problems are.”
Those problems have been the focus of a lot of discussion, especially since last week when a 38-year-old man was beaten to death in a fight between two groups. But those who regularly congregate in the park say violence, menacing and rivalries are nothing new.
“Over the past month or so, there were three big fights right in a row,” said Clarissa Tobey. “People don’t even feel safe walking through here anymore.”
At nightfall Wednesday, Tobey was wheeling her daughter in a stroller. A nanny, Tobey said she often takes children into Kennedy Park because it is a good way to beat the heat and a good space for the kids to play.
“It’s supposed to be a nice park,” she said.
But not so much lately. Tobey said that with tensions high in the downtown, she now only comes to the park with a group. Others feel the same, saying that with gangs of troublemakers known to pick on random strangers, there is definitely safety in numbers.
“Part of the reason we’re all here together,” Dunlop said, “is because that’s the only way to be safe here.”
Over the past week, many have insisted the recent violence springs from racial tension in the park. Others say it is not so clear.
“It’s not a matter of race or religion,” Baumgardner said. “It’s a matter of right and wrong.”
Not long ago, Baumgardner said, he and Dunlop were walking through the park and toward their home on Knox Street. A group of boys near the skateboard park began to taunt them, he said, and they shouted crude things about Dunlop.
When the couple continued walking toward home, the boys threw water bottles at them and one fired a pellet, striking Baumgardner.
Nancy Chen, who lives near the park, said curfews seem to apply to some people and not to others. Police shoo some people away, she said, while large groups of immigrants congregating in the basketball court seem to get a pass.
“They’ll be there all night and the police just keep on going,” Chen said. “We don’t know why. It’s not fair.”
Chen said she, too, was accosted recently by a large group of boys in the park, one of whom struck her on the arm with a metal pipe.
“There were 12 or 14 of them all around me,” Chen said. “When I went down to the Police Department to get help, they followed me right down there.”
After the beating death of Donald Giusti last week, police enforced the 9 p.m. curfew, which had been in place for many years. The City Council this week voted to make it a 10 p.m. curfew, and promised to enforce it over the summer. The city also plans to install more security cameras in the park.
Earlier Wednesday night, few people in the park knew for certain what time curfew was. They had heard different things: Some thought it was still 9 p.m., others did not know there was a curfew at all. Several said they planned to leave before 10 p.m. and, thus, would not be affected.
Sure enough, when the curfew hour rolled around, almost no one was left in the park, save for the police officers assigned to enforce the new ordinance.
One man, who had been sitting on a bench for an hour, got up, groaning and stretching, a couple of minutes before 10 p.m. Then, he sat down again.
“I’m staying right here,” he said, “until the police tell me I have to leave.”
A few minutes later, a pair of officers wandered over and did exactly that.
Lt. Mark Cornelio, left, officer Charlie Weaver and officer Jeremy Somma of the Lewiston Police Department keep an eye Wednesday night on Kennedy Park in downtown Lewiston. Police closed the park at 10 p.m. in keeping with the new curfew. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Nancy Chen has lived in an apartment next to Kennedy Park for 20 years. Chen said there are certain times of the day when she is scared to go into the park. “There is a problem,” she said Wednesday. “They need to fix it.” (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Carrene Littlefield spends time with Zeana Libby, 5, in Kennedy Park on Wednesday evening. Libby is the youngest of Donald Giusti’s four children. Giusti died from injuries he suffered when he was beaten near Kennedy Park. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Lt. Mark Cornelio of the Lewiston Police Department patrols Kennedy Park shortly before police closed the park at 10 p.m. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Police officers Charlie Weaver and Jeremy Somma of the Lewiston Police Department talk with another officer 45 minutes before Kennedy Park was closed in downtown Lewiston on Wednesday night. Police closed the park at 10 p.m. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)