St. Louis Police Trying to Crack Down on Teen ‘Fight Teams’

Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 24, 2015

Back-to-back weekends of violence erupting among groups of juveniles meeting up to fight at high-profile attractions are prompting police to pressure parents to keep their teenagers in line or face consequences themselves.

Reports of fights involving teenage “fight teams” on the St. Louis Zoo grounds forced an early closing March 15. Twenty minutes later, two teens were arrested for fighting near the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink station, after one person briefly wound up on the tracks.

Then, on Saturday night, a group of about 20 to 30 juveniles and young adults clashed briefly with protesters; several shots were fired in the Delmar Loop.

Delmar

In all, police have arrested about 15 juveniles connected to the violence of the past two weekends, said Lt. Janice Bockstruck, commander of the city’s juvenile division.

Bockstruck stopped short of calling the fight teams “gangs.”

“These are young kids getting together in a group and taking disputes–sometimes girl fights or normal everyday school disagreements–and exploding it over social media to the point where it escalates and they end up meeting and fighting,” she said.

So along with added police presence in the affected areas, Bockstruck said she is sending detectives to the homes of the teens who have been arrested to make parents aware of services that could address problems in the family and to put those parents on notice: If your child is arrested again, you will receive a summons for contributing to the delinquency of a minor by allowing them to engage in behavior that is harmful to their health and welfare.

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The Saturday night disruptions flared after a peaceful demonstration on Delmar.

University City Police Capt. Michael Ransom emphasized that the activists bringing attention to issues raised in Ferguson were not a party to the violence.

Rather, he said, “The kids took to the streets reacting to the protest.” He characterized the spasm of fistfights and gunplay Saturday as a “flare-up” of disturbances like those two years ago that resulted in the installation of security cameras, a temporary curfew and an increased weekend police presence.

Tension rose as a group of 25 to 50 Ferguson activists concluded a peaceful sidewalk march at the intersection of Delmar and Skinker boulevards.

According to one demonstrator, the protest was disrupted when a teen stole a cellphone from a demonstrator and fled down a side street. The ensuing ruckus drew the attention of about 150 to 200 teens who had gathered in the Loop on a warm Saturday night.

One group moved eastward, into the city and past Skinker.

Ransom said those who remained on the University City side of Delmar engaged in “sporadic fighting,” and at least one gunshot rang out on the opposite side of Skinker.

St. Louis police arrested a juvenile after seeing a muzzle flash near the Pageant theater.

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Ransom and Weiss said the power of social media in drawing large numbers of teens to a specific location cannot be discounted.

The use of direct, private messages among teens can frustrate law enforcement efforts to track Facebook and Twitter traffic. Those messages can create “flash mobs,” Ransom said.

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