Don’t Ignore Racial Aspect of Plaza Mobs

Yael T. Abouhalkah, Kansas City Star, April 13, 2010

The out-of-control teens who terrorized parts of the Country Club Plaza Saturday night were mostly black youths.

Stating it that factually disturbs some people, who would rather use euphemisms such as “urban” youth or some such words.

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The kids who showed up Saturday night came from schools that included–but were not limited to–Raytown and Westport highs, according to police. Both schools have high populations of black students.

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Why are the black kids going to the Plaza?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but one obvious reason: That’s where the crowd of mostly white adults hangs out.

And the youth know their presence will be disturbing to people who aren’t used to seeing so many black kids in one place.

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Kansas City police say they will be ready if hundreds of unruly youths show up again this weekend at the Country Club Plaza.

And they think that could happen.

“We’ve been getting information that they’ll be back again,” Capt. Donna Greenwell said.

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Police Chief Jim Corwin said his staff planned to meet with the Plaza Merchant’s Association, NAACP and others to find the best solution. Police also want to educate parents that the Plaza isn’t suitable for unattended children to roam freely at night.

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Greenwell said police were expecting trouble last weekend, but not of the magnitude that was delivered when as many as 900 juveniles swarmed the Plaza streets and sidewalks. Police think texting and social media played a role in the wave of youths.

Police had 21 extra officers in place Saturday beyond the usual number of officers and Plaza security guards, but they were quickly outnumbered.

The youths “were destroying property, pushing people as they walked down the sidewalk and spitting on people,” Greenwell said. “It was just mass chaos and mayhem.”

Greenwell said she thought the youths showed up to cause problems.

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Youths maliciously pushed a high school student wearing her prom dress into a restaurant patio fountain. Other youths knocked down, beat up and robbed a Grandview couple, stealing her purse and his eyeglasses.

A fight in a parking lot left a 16-year-old boy with a broken jaw and serious head injuries.

Juveniles approached diners on the patio of the Cheescake Factory who had to-go boxes and grabbed the food, tossing the boxes into fountains, police said.

Police said they noticed a “mass exit” of paying customers from the Plaza about 10 p.m.

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Earlier problems

A growing number of youths had begun loitering on the Plaza in recent weeks with trouble erupting Easter weekend.

Police estimated 300 to 500 youths gathered April 3, caused fights and displayed gang signs. Police used pepper spray to break up several fights. Officers arrested a 17-year-old in a car with a gun.

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Police said they also learned last week that youths were using social media Web sites to organize and encourage friends to gather Saturday night on the Plaza. They heard Saturday morning from some area high school officials that there might be trouble on the Plaza.

The department sent additional officers to the Plaza about 6 p.m. Saturday to break up any gatherings of youths before they got too big. But as the night went on, the crowd of kids, mostly ages 11 to 17, swelled.

Then about 200 to 300 juveniles left the theater and were joined by other youths who were either dropped off by parents or arrived by bus.

Fights and stampedes

Fights broke out, youths stampeded down the streets, and groups blocked entrances and exits to businesses, police said. A 16-year-old girl suffered abrasions when she was trampled during one stampede.

At Pennsylvania Avenue and Nichols Road, the Grandview couple, in their 20s, said a group of 15 young males accosted them and knocked a cup of coffee out of the woman’s hand. The juveniles hit the woman, knocking her to the ground. They stole her purse and kicked and punched the man until the woman threw herself on top of him to protect him. The man suffered minor cuts and swelling, police said.

People could not walk down the sidewalk, and traffic could not flow because of the crowds. The horse carriage ride that operates on the Plaza had to shut down.

Police arrested a 15-year-old boy after he lifted up his shirt and showed what appeared to be a gun to various teenagers across the street with whom he was arguing. Police recovered a toy gun from the boy’s waistband.

Some youths grabbed flowers and tried to ruin landscaping, police said.

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Police said a large fight broke out in the Winstead’s parking lot and officers found a teen lying on the asphalt with a large bruise to his forehead and side of his head. He could barely speak. They think the victim was hit in the head with a pipe.

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In addition to the crimes police observed, they received about 35 calls for help, mostly for disturbances and fighting.

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THE FLASH MOB DILEMMA

Kansas City police weren’t calling Saturday night’s mayhem a “Flash mob,” which is a mass gathering organized through texting and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

But flash mobs have caused problems in some cities.

Generally, flash mobs have been used in other cities to spur public-art performances, fundraising efforts, marketing ploys, sporting events and other community activities.

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