Water Tower Place officials privately apologize to black teens booted from mall
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When Linda Jennings read the description of the young African-American teens that were wrongfully kicked out of Water Tower Place on March 3rd, she immediately recognized them.
“I was flipping through the paper and read what Dr. [Carla] Hightower had to say about how the boys acted. My intuition said that has to be my grandson and his friends,” Jennings told me.
“They are very well-mannered and take a lot of pride in their looks. I asked them why they didn’t mention [the incident], and they said, ‘We are always getting kicked out of malls.’”
On Saturday afternoon, officials at Water Tower Place personally apologized to the teens for wrongfully kicking them out of the trendy mall.
Kevin Berry, executive vice president of human resources and communications for General Growth Properties (GGP) — which owns the popular mall — appeared on Episode #9 of the Zebra Sisters podcast, vowing to publicly apologize to the teens if they could be located.
“I’m here on behalf of the company to say we are very sorry for what happened. We want you to come back. Please forgive us,” Berry told the gathering that included two of the teens kicked out on March 3rd, and a member of the Kenwood Academy basketball team that was put out of the mall in 2017 because security officers said they hadn’t bought anything.
The meeting took place adjacent to the Water Tower Place power plant, on a basketball court where Michael Jordan used to play privately.
Emilio Pledger, 14, called his ejection from the Mag Mile “messed up,” but said he was used to it.
“That is the way the world is today. That is just the way some people are,” Pledger told me. “I pretty much come here every weekend and most of the time I do buy something.”
The teens are connected through social media and their love of fashion. Seeing the three of them together, I could see why Hightower would have noticed them.
Malcolm Moffett, Jennings’s grandson, said he had parted with his friends before they were kicked out.
“They look at us and they assume certain things. We are well cared for and look good. I can’t imagine how other teens are treated who don’t look so good,” Moffett said.
“I feel we get kicked out just because of stereotyping,” he said.
Stanley Parton, vice president of the retail division for Andy Frain Services, said a “no loitering” policy put in place after Michigan Avenue was hit with a string of retail flash mobs in 2009, was reassessed after Hightower’s intervention.
He denied that the teens’ eviction from the mall was based on their race.
“We are now addressing what we should have addressed all along, and that is behavior,” Parton said.
Under the previous policy, security guards asked teens to leave the mall if they hadn’t made a purchase within one hour.
An apology is nice, but parents are concerned that the racial profiling will continue.
“If there’s no policy change, this is just for show and won’t make an impact on the situation,” said Shamona McDaniel, the mother of one of the Kenwood Academy students kicked out of Water Tower Place in 2017.
While “pleased” that Water Tower Place is making an effort by apologizing, Hightower suggested that more should be done.
“To help make progress, we recommend that your company provide the boys and girls with scholarships . . . and internship opportunities,” Hightower said in an earlier email to GGP officials.
That doesn’t sound like a big ask.
Last week, the two men wrongfully arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks settled with the coffee-shop chain for an offer of free college tuition.
Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson also accepted a symbolic payment of $1 each and a pledge by officials to set up a $200,000 grant program for high school students aspiring to become entrepreneurs.
Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci are co-hosts of a popular new podcast called “Zebra Sisters” — a refreshing look at race relations from the viewpoints of two women – one black and one white. Mary and Leslie unwind awkward subjects and discuss current events with candor and humor. Subscribe (for free) on iTunes and Google Play Music — or listen to individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ website. Email Mary and Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org or give them a shout-out on the Zebra Hotline (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).