If you set out to attract a crowd, be ready to deal with the bad element

03/19/2014 5:15 PM

03/19/2014 7:29 PM

Create the environment for chaos, bear the responsibility when the shots are fired and the punches are thrown.

That should be the standard. It doesn’t matter whether the problems are at the zoo during free days, outside Cinemark theaters on the Country Club Plaza or anywhere else in town.

The draw is free or cheap. Deal with what shows up.

The zoo can honor its promise to reward Jackson County and Clay County residents for passing the zoo sales tax with free days. But switch to a voucher system. Four family vouchers per household a year to bypass the entrance fee, no underage children without an adult.

Quit letting thousands of people in for free all on the same days.

In the same vein, Cinemark needs to admit that charging $6.75 for an evening movie on weekends is part of what attracts throngs of young people — some who only want to cause trouble. That’s how much the most expensive ticket (except for the VIP room) cost way back when the Palace on the Plaza opened in 1999. A comparable ticket costs $11.50 at nearby non-Cinemark theaters.

Everyone with a stake in these situations needs to quit quibbling and join forces. Whether the fight occurs on the sidewalks, inside the building but not actually in the theater, or in the parking lot, not actually inside the zoo. Cinemark, Highwoods, the city, police, parks and recreation all need to be at the table equally. For too long, Mayor Sly James and Police Chief Darryl Forté have been the lone voices making the most cogent comments.

The theater is central to why troublemakers are drawn by the young crowds on the Plaza. The business attracts it with low ticket prices in a popular, upscale entertainment district, just as a massive free day drew the criminals to the zoo Tuesday.

And let’s be clear. Punching a cop or firing a gun indiscriminately is criminal behavior.

One more incident on the Plaza and other businesses there will likely see a drop in revenue, if they haven’t already. The free zoo day is already soiled. Safety-conscious parents won’t take their children to similar open days at the zoo, fearing what could happen.

After a fight last year, zoo officials took reasonable precautions by switching the free days from weekends to weekdays. They doubled security, removed rowdy people from the zoo earlier in the day Tuesday. And still unruly people arrived, demanding to be let in a half hour before closing.

We’ve got a problem that’s not unique to Kansas City. A small contingent of teenagers and young adults is not being raised right. They’re mouthy to authority for no cause, overreact to every perceived slight and show little concern for the safety of others.

They are a sliver of Kansas City, and every venue holder needs to be mindful of them for the safety of the far more numerous peaceful residents.

Finally, let’s keep these incidents of outright violence separate from conversations about a lack of entertainment opportunities for teenagers in the urban core. Plenty of young people are sorely in need of safe places to simply be teenagers in Kansas City. They deserve it, and businesses and civic efforts need to do more for them. And yet most underserved teenagers are not acting out violently. They are not being disrespectful. They don’t deserve to be lumped in by virtue of sharing a race or age with the hoodlums.

We need to honor them and jail the troublemakers, or their parents when the problem can be traced to adult negligence.

The chance to ogle a penguin for free and a huge swath of the city without a movie theater are not excuses to start a brawl in a public square or unload a gun at the zoo.


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