Unruly black youths + The Plaza = more trouble

02/18/2014 9:11 AM

02/18/2014 7:16 PM

Once again Kansas City’s black mayor, black police chief and other black community leaders are confronted with the problem of how to handle rowdy black youth on weekend nights at the Country Club Plaza.

Make no mistake: This is an image problem that Mayor Sly James and Police Chief Darryl Forte, in particular, are acutely aware of.

They often have talked before of how the majority of black youth who gather on the Plaza are well-behaved. But on too many occasions,

including last Saturday night

, the dynamic changes. Fights break out, the police swoop in and people are arrested or, more than likely, held as juveniles until their parents come to get them.

This is not the image of the Plaza that city leaders or merchants want being broadcast to the world, especially paying customers who routinely flock to the finest shopping center in the metropolitan area.

And the fact that both the mayor and police chief are black themselves gives them some added credibility in dealing with others in the community — in churches, youth organizations and other groups — about how to head off problems.

The latest incident has Forte speaking boldly about how future ones will not be tolerated. But really, beyond imposing some kind of oppressive-looking police state on the Plaza, it’s tough to see what else Forte can do to improve the situation.

James and the council will be involved in any proposed broad solutions, as they were with the still in effect curfew passed several years ago.

In the last two years, James and the council have worked out positive nighttime, weekend activities for youth around Kansas City, but concentrated in the urban core. The events have gone off mostly without a hitch, indicating that obviously black youth and other youth can get together without acting out.

But the message still hasn’t gotten through that James, Forte and others try to send, that parents need to keep a closer eye on their children and not let them wander around the Plaza unaccompanied, especially on weekend nights when crowds can be bigger.

As

people noted again this week in this TV report

, youth of any color have a right to be on the Plaza in non-curfew hours.

What can they do there? City Council member John Sharp recently lamented the loss of many places that black youth used to go to in Kansas City, such as bowling alleys and skating rinks.

While that’s true, look at where many of the problems with youth occur on the Plaza: Outside the Cinemark movie theater, a typical place for youngsters to be, and often thought of as a particularly safe activity, too.

Don’t expect any easy solutions to this problem, but it deserves more attention from the mayor, chief and others partly because of the importance of the Country Club Plaza to Kansas City’s overall image in this region and even the nation.

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