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Published: Saturday, 2/20/2010

Restrict teenagers' access to mall to avoid clashes

IT WAS disturbing enough merely to read about the melee involving young people at Westfield Franklin Park last weekend. Shoppers and mall employees who watched the disruption were frightened. Some undoubtedly pledged never to return until police and mall officials take steps to prevent a recurrence.

Malls are private property, but like it or not, they have become the modern public square. They are where people congregate, shop, socialize, relax, and grab a bite to eat.

The Feb. 13 brawl was the seventh such clash at Westfield Franklin Park in the past four years. Most of the others didn't involve nearly as many young people as last week's crowd of 150 teenagers. The others took place in the mall parking lot and in or near the movie theater and food court. The most recent incident was in the food court.

Most of the 16 people who were arrested are African-American. From all indications, most of the other young people involved in the fracas are black too. That's upsetting because it reinforces stereotypes. No matter how much we say that young people who wander aimlessly — as some of those in the mall disruption apparently were doing — do not represent a whole group, there are people who are determined to believe otherwise.

This problem is more complex than a matter of teenagers not having enough to do. To be sure, wayward children can come from good homes with good parents. However, very often the teens who pose many of the toughest challenges come from homes where parental involvement and control are lacking.

When the Rev. Jesse Jackson met The Blade's editorial board last December, I asked whether he believed gangs were a basic problem for African-American families. Though Mr. Jackson is right that many family problems are the direct result of “banksters” — banks that benefited from taxpayer-funded bailouts, then refused to pass those gains on to customers — it is also true that gangs and other pressures on families play significant roles in the misdirected lives of many young black people.

When young black Americans demonstrate behavior such as we saw at the mall, it is outrageous, disgusting, embarrassing, humiliating, and shameful — and that's just for starters.

Those altercations may prompt thoughts that blacks' civil rights struggles and gains have been for naught, but that is not true. Millions of young black people are doing exactly as they should: studying hard in school, working, and steering clear of such social evils as drugs, even when they are faced with multiple problems.

Westfield Franklin Park retailers and shoppers who don't already know that may have a hard time believing it, especially after events such as last week's altercation. So what are mall officials and the police to do to keep fisticuffs from happening again?

They should keep underage teenagers from shopping at the mall after a certain hour unless they are accompanied by an adult. Police and businesses can inform parents that they no longer can drop off their underage children at the mall without adult supervision.

Again, mall property is private, so the owners can implement strict rules. Besides, mall retailers are businesses, not baby-sitters.

Shoppers and retailers should not have to worry that they could put themselves at risk at the mall.

And of course, these young people need someplace to go where they can engage in constructive activities.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

Contact her at:rrussell@theblade.com



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