What more should be done to stop unruly teenagers from taking over the streets and scaring the daylights out of the rest of us?
Sorry if the question sounds a bit insensitive. But I’m serious.
I received several emails from readers outraged by the behavior of brawling teenagers on Michigan Avenue over Memorial Day weekend.
One fight, involving what looked like dozens of teens, was captured on cell phone and circulated on the Internet as evidence that black teens were out of control.
“Look at the videos. These are many of the same groups of the innocent kids you like to talk about,” taunted one reader.
“Once one of these black kids gets going the whole group of these kids turn into wholesale criminals and thugs…,” the reader said.
Obviously, these aren’t the innocent kids I write about. Black teens who behave appropriately shouldn’t be judged by the bad behavior of their peers.
But because so many of us don’t see the difference, the good kids often suffer along with the unruly ones.
That’s my concern.
Teenagers — of every race — should be as welcomed as tourists on the Mag Mile.
But for that to happen, we need to find a way to hold miscreants accountable.
It just isn’t enough to herd the disorderly teens onto a nonstop L train back to the South Side, which was the strategy the Chicago Police Department used to deal with the Memorial Day weekend mayhem.
When the beaches closed, police officers on bikes rode alongside crowds of young people and steered them toward buses and L stations.
“We cannot indiscriminately arrest large groups,” said police Supt. Eddie Johnson. “Sometimes, we will walk with them, but officers don’t interact. As long as they are acting appropriately, there’s no problem.
“If we see them becoming unruly — harassing people on the streets or fighting, and it turns into a criminal incident, we will arrest them.”
Unfortunately, police apparently were not outside of Water Tower Place when the fistfights broke out.
Johnson made a point that there are unruly groups of all races, even though the videos that get circulated on the Internet almost always are of African-Americans or Hispanics.
“I can’t answer why that is, but we have had instances of young white folks on the beaches drinking and acting inappropriately,” he said. “I can assure you every summer in the city of Chicago kids of all races act inappropriately. Some are from the city, and some are from the suburbs.”
Police arrested 20 people for misdemeanors. There was no serious property damage. An estimated 40,000 people flocked to the city’s lakefront and beaches during the holiday weekend.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said the decision to “steer young people of borderline criminal behavior” to CTA buses and trains was “troubling.”
“There’s just a lot of questions about who made the decision to get a train and send it on an express line south and where it stopped,” Ed Yohnka said.
The Chicago Police Department defended its strategy.
“The express trains control the flow of people” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. “It is not like the police said, ‘Everybody get on trains’ when the parks closed. The police guided them to the L station, and those trains ran express.”
That’s all good — until the next time.
Teens who engage in mob actions should face consequences for their poor decision-making.
That might mean detaining the teens and calling their parents to pick them up or issuing fines.
“This is not a racial thing,” Johnson said. “It is a behavior thing. If we see physical altercations downtown or in the district — if we observe that, we are going to intervene ,and the folks involved, we are going to arrest.
“As long as you come down there and enjoy the city in a respectful way, there is no issues from CPD. If they come down there and act inappropriately, we will hold them accountable.”
Young people should be able to travel all over this city without feeling they don’t belong.
But that doesn’t give them the right to make the rest of us miserable.
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