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EDITORIAL: What are we to make of a big crowd of unruly teenagers?

More than 200 officers confronted groups of teens who fought each other, struck strangers and blocked traffic, according to Chicago police. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

The last day of school is June 20. That gives Chicago two months to figure out how to avoid a summer vacation repeat of the spring break mayhem that flared up on Wednesday night.

Hundreds of young people descended on the downtown area around 9 p.m. and made their way from the Magnificent Mile to Millennium Park to the Loop, some of them fighting, disrupting traffic and hitting strangers. Close to 30 young people were arrested.

Chicago has seen this before. Earlier this year, Water Tower Place banned minors without adult chaperones from the mall on Friday and Saturday nights because of problems caused by rowdy teens. Several years ago, Navy Pier temporarily shut down during Winter Wonderfest when fights broke out among teens.

We don’t know exactly why the teens converged downtown, though flash mobs organized on social media are common.

But we do know this: A lot of the adult reaction to the teens made sense, even if it might have seemed contradictory.

Here’s what we heard:

“These kids shouldn’t be fighting.”

Definitely not. No matter what, there was no excuse for fighting, blocking traffic and hitting strangers. When things started looking ugly, we liked what one cop said to a group of young people: “Beat it, go home.”

Arrests for disorderly conduct were not out of line, as long as the police respected the teens’ civil rights. But, at the same time, we’re also not eager to see a young person who made one mistake — like throwing a stupid punch — pay a long-term price.

“Where were their parents?”

Excellent question. Many parents work long hours and have to leave their teens unsupervised for long stretches, but as one woman wrote on Facebook: “Talk to your children and their friends. Find out how they think, what their plans are for the future. What are their friends’ phone numbers? Don’t just let your kids run wild. They’re your children.”

“They were bored. Kids need something to do.”

True enough. Out-of-school programs are available at Park District facilities, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and elsewhere. But in lower-income neighborhoods on the South and West sides, there’s still a shortage. The kids in these communities deserve the same opportunities as middle-class kids to take music lessons or arts classes — stuff that offers them a future and keeps them busy.

“Cops should know how to deal with kids without arresting them.”

When there’s an altercation that involves mostly white cops and mostly African American young people, lines in the sand get quickly drawn.

One side makes the entirely valid point that kids of color, like everybody else, have a right to go downtown, even in big groups, without the cops standing over them. The other side says it’s not about race; it’s about crowd control and bad behavior. Look at Lollapalooza, they might point out. Every year, young white concertgoers who are disruptive get arrested.

Everybody’s making good points. Now what’s to be done?

Summer’s coming on.

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