Don’t use pepper spray on Plaza Art Fair crowd this weekend

09/17/2013 7:08 PM

09/17/2013 7:08 PM

It’s guaranteed to happen this Friday and Saturday nights on the Country Club Plaza.

Large crowds of people are going to gather and, at points, be elbow to elbow along the spine of the Kansas City shopping district.

Many will be drinking alcohol.

Some people will be armed with guns because, hey, this is America, so you have to expect almost anyone is packing heat these days.

Question: What happens if a disturbance breaks out after someone gets a little tipsy, a stupid remark is made, someone gets jostled in the crowd and doesn’t like it?

Here’s one thing the loads of police at the Country Club Plaza’s Art Fair won’t do: Fire pepper spray into the crowd in an attempt to disperse it.

The Art Fair goers will be majority white, middle- to high-income residents, many from the suburbs, the kind of people who certainly would not expect pepper spray to ever be aimed their way, even if a disturbance occurs around them.

And this is the point where you would expect me to point out that the Kansas City police did, in fact, use pepper spray to disperse a crowd of mostly black youths Saturday night just east of the Plaza, in Mill Creek Park.

The police said the kids were running around, fights were occurring and there were shouts a few times that someone in the crowd had a gun or guns.

Second-guessing that decision to use pepper spray is going on now, at least among some politicians, such as City Council member Jermaine Reed.

Mayor Sly James, in a quote he gave the media, did not do that, saying he was not there and did not know what kind of problem the police faced that night.

My thought: If the pepper spray helped prevent shots being fired, lots of people being injured, yes, it was worth it.

But that’s a very big “if,” the kind that has to be evaluated anytime law enforcement uses pepper spray.

Obviously, the situation this Saturday night is going to be a challenging one for Kansas City.

The Plaza Art Fair crowd will be out in full force both Friday and Saturday nights. Police and Plaza security will be ramped up in light of problems near the Plaza the last few weekends. Police will be closely watching what happens when the movies let out early in the evening at the Cinemark theaters.

But it’s also not something that should keep people away from the Plaza, especially given the near spotless record of safety on most nights at the Plaza and certainly at the annual art fair.


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