Little Criminals? Poor Children Not Allowed to Play Outside

Children at a low-income apartment in the Central District have been forbidden to play outside, with their families facing evictions as penalty, according to an article in the most recent Real Change

Since management of The Flintstone (as long time residents refer to it) was taken over recently by a new couple, children have been ordered inside while playing, or even when taking the laundry to the laundry room, in the case of one ten-year-old girl. Residents report the new managers, who are white (most of the tenants aren’t), “bark at them like overseers.”

Fesseru says the manager’s wife told her 10-year-old daughter to get inside while she was carrying clothes to the laundry room. Another tenant, Rose Relda, says her son was told he couldn’t take his bike out and, when she went to the manager’s door to ask why, “She started screaming, ‘Nobody can play outside,’” Relda says.

According to the article, Flintstone resident K. L. Shannon (who many of us in Seattle know as being on the forefront of peace and justice issues) successfully fought a recent eviction notice over her 3–year-old nephew “playing, screaming, [and] riding skateboards and bikes on the walkways and stairwells.” 

Then the police were even called by the managers in June, because some children were throwing orange peels off a balcony.  O.K.  I can see talking to their parents and having the kids pick up the rinds, but, seriously, this is a situation dangerous enough (or maybe, criminal enough) to call the police? The police don’t have better things to do in the Central District?

Indeed, the police do.  In fact, that seems to be the central argument of the apartment managers and management company. According to both, the children are only banned from the stair wells and the walks, not the courtyard.  Diane Castanes of Phillips Real Estate claims these rules are “in part. . . to help clean up a building known for its drug and gang activity.”

“We can’t tell the drug dealers to stay out of the parking lot and not tell kids to. We have to tell everyone,” Castanes says. “That’s a way to avoid loitering that also avoids drug activity.”

Even if the children are just banned from playing on the walks (which doesn’t sound like how it’s being enforced), where exactly are these young children supposed to ride their bikes, skateboards, etc.?  Are they supposed to take them out on the street?  This is near the intersection of 18th and Union.  Good place for a 3–year-old to be out riding his bike.  Right.

When I was a kid, which I realize was a long time ago, in the 60s, in upstate New York, we were supposed to go outside and play, especially in the summer.  Has childhood changed so much?  Maybe we should put them in sweatshops.  No, just plop them in front of the tv to veg all day.  Fortunately, we had yards, but we did ride our bicycles, push our doll carriages, ride go-karts and sleds – on the street, as we didn’t have sidewalks, and it was a dead end street (where drivers, in those days, looked out for children). 

When I was a teenager, we lived in subsidized housing in an apartment complex a small town in Oregon, and, yes, the little children played on the walkways.  I don’t remember anyone being traumatized by it.  In fact, my mother (enabler that she was), was known by the kids as “the cookie lady.”  I guess she just didn’t see this playing outdoors/future drug dealer connection.

I’m still trying to see how banning children from playing is going to make the neighborhood safer from drug dealers, unless, of course, you view the children as future drug dealers.  After all, there are drug dealers near Pike Place Market.  I guess by the logic of the management company in the quote above, we can’t ban them unless we ban everyone else from loitering at the Market.  No more tourists standing around watching the flying fish or taking pictures of Rachel the Pig.  O.K. We can evidently tell the difference between tourists and drug dealers (and still enforce the laws); but apparently not between poor children and drug dealers? 

I especially have to wonder about the real reason for the attitude to the other kids when the couple who manage it have 5 children they say they don’t allow outside.  Maybe the kids just couch or mouse potatoes, or could it be the parents are afraid of the other kids in building, either because they’re poor or not white, or both?  Admittedly, the instances of vandalism to their house and car since they started enforcing the “no play” rules probably don’t add to their feelings of safety for their kids, but it seems like that attitude came first. 

Maybe I’m wrong about the racism or classism, and childhood has become illegal (or at least playing outside in the summer, which is what children do, or should be doing).

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One thought on “Little Criminals? Poor Children Not Allowed to Play Outside

  1. I’m working with a Fair Housing law firm to see if it’s legal, or try to make it legal, to have “families-only” communities (communities where only families with children are allowed to move in). Right now, the Fair Housing Act allows senior-only communities. I think this would make the families that live in these communities a *lot* safer.

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