The streets of Kansas City are for everyone. White people, black people, rich people, poor people and everyone else.
When young people gather in one place or another, they tend to operate on their own rhythms and their own systems of friendship, fun and social interaction. Sometimes a few young people out for a good time cause problems for others.
Sometimes those problems are internal — within their own groups, that is — and fights need to be broken up. This is the eternal history of kids. But, sometimes the problems are provocative and extend beyond their groups, prompting, when necessary, efforts on behalf of public safety.
When crowds of black youths gather on the Country Club Plaza, there is no inherent problem. This is their town, too. Sure, some of them, like other unruly kids, ought to be better behaved and better controlled by their parents and their peers.
Still there is no public crisis unless real violence erupts, as when gunfire disturbed a summer night on the Plaza in 2011 and wounded three teenagers.
Last Saturday night, as many as 150 black youths strolled and congregated on the Plaza. At 8:15, a few unruly teens had been ejected from a movie theater and disturbances broke out in the streets nearby. It took Kansas City police nearly two hours to restore order, and once again it caused citizens to wonder what could or should be done.
A summertime curfew did not apply in this case, and organized weekend activities for kids were not available as they are in warmer months.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté properly vowed to crack down on rowdy teens, intending to send more officers, some of them undercover, to watch for troublemakers on the Plaza, especially on Saturday nights. And he urged more cooperation by civic leaders and parents to address the problem of wandering teens with nothing better to do than jaywalk and assert their toughness.
A city youth commission — including teens, college students and representatives of youth organizations — will surely take up the issue. It should be the commission’s top priority.
Kansas City has a history of fear and racial tension. White suburbanites and others have long questioned the safety of going into the city — their loss, of course — and you could see some of that knee-jerk reaction following last weekend’s news from the Plaza. Citizens and city leadership should take care not to blow incidents like this out of proportion.
Kids will be kids. But it takes a village, doesn’t it — good ideas, proper guidance, a sense of community, an absence of fear — to ensure that kids can also do better on the streets and as citizens, too.