August is the month everyone takes vacation or at least checks out of real work to enjoy the fleeting days of summer before going back to school and getting back into the routine. In politics the August "surprise" is usually some dramatic event that requires political attention when in fact, politicos are elsewhere. Congress is on a hiatus right now.
Here in KC, the August surprise is not really a surprise, but local politicos are standing around like it is. Teens have mobbed The Plaza late at night and caused disturbances. This weekend, shots were fired, several teens were hit (no life threatening injuries or deaths), and the Mayor who was there to observe or lend support or something, got shoved to the ground by his security detail when the gunfire happened.
Now the city council, scarred residents, and the Mayor are considering curfews, which is the solution Mayor Nutter is using in Philadelphia to thwart teen flash mobs that are assaulting people in that city's downtown. Apparently the social science literature indicates that curfews don't have any impact on crime or juvenile behavior as a long term strategy ( See TKC Monday, August 15 or here for details).
Of course the curfew would have to be city wide and that does not sit well with other retail areas where kids have not yet become violent and may never become violent. Of course, most kids have nothing to do to amuse themselves and apparently there are parents that are unable, unwilling, or uninterested in keeping their kids at home at 11:00 at night. Some of the kids at The Plaza were 15 and under. And not all the kids are from KCMO. Some are from Raytown and other cities.
Kids have no where to go
1. no movie theaters on the east side
2. no community centers or other public spaces are open at night on the weekend Greg Klice center closes at 5 on Saturday and is not open on Sunday. Same with the Brush Creek Center. The Linwood YMCA is open until 1pm on Saturday, closed Sunday. The Cleaver Y on Troost is open to 7pm on Saturday and 6pm on Sunday. The 2 Boys & Girls Clubs locations on the east side are not open on the weekends.
3. The skating rink is north of the river.
4. There is a bowling alley in Raytown, one in the Power & Light District, and one near Ward Parkway.
5. Public library branches closed on Saturday nights and open Sunday afternoons - it's where the computers are - which is what kids like.
I am sure there are probably a few teen places in KC/Raytown for Saturday night activities - but there are a lot of kids.
Why do parents allow their kids out late at night?
Some parents are working, some don't parent well and can't control their kids, some don't have any help and take time off from parenting, some have given up. When you are poor and live in a constant state of depression, you cope. Sometimes parenting is not part of that coping. Not an excuse, just an explanation.
Single parent households are tough to maintain - ask any single parent rich or poor. Add violence in your neighborhood, despair in your neighborhood (and don't buy this - we were poor but didn't know it crap - poor people know they are poor), and a lack of role models that model anything other than what is being acted, and you have a recipe for disaster. Not an excuse, just an explanation.
Generational poverty does occur and it is a modeled behavior. Not all poor people model this, but some do. Their kids see a parent that never has a steady job or a way out and they learn to live likewise. Some kids don't and model other behaviors. It may depend on who is in their life, how many outside influences they pay attention to, and what they see for themselves - based on what glimpse they have seen. Not an excuse, just an explanation.
What can anyone who is not a parent of a flash mob kid do to turn this situation around?
1. if you know a flash mob kid - get in their life and model some good behavior
2. if you don't know a flash mob kid - get in the life of an at risk kid and model some good behavior
3. if you don't want to be up close and personal with a kid who is not your own, then donate or volunteer with organizations that are willing to be up close and personal.
4. advocate that the city, corporations, and Highwood Properties contribute to weekend open hours for city centers, libraries, YMCA, and Boys & Girls Clubs or other locations that can serve kids. You have to have more than one place open though or you will be swamped with kids. There are a lot of kids.
5. Why aren't churches open on Saturday nights for games and dances?
I know that people want to control and repress as a first impulse - just like we throw everyone who touched drugs into jail. How's that working for us? Yeah. Same thing with a curfew. You think kids will go home? No. They will attempt to flaunt the curfew and will hang out elsewhere, probably on the east side and then the powerful folk will say - well see, it worked, they are off The Plaza. Control is waaaaay more expensive than support.
Over 100 homicides on the east side. How's that working for us? We reap what we sow. And don't give me that crap about report criminals to the police. When you have to fear for your own safety, let's see you snitch.
There are rag-tag community groups, well-funded community groups, and prominent community groups that try to make a difference in their east side neighborhoods. 23rd Street PAC is having a family activity next weekend. Voices of the People has a weekly Friday night gathering at 38th and Chestnut. Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council has activities at their building regularly at 37th and Woodland. Every Wednesday afternoon the Front Porch Alliance has Teen Talk at Michigan and Linwood. High Aspirations meets weekly at Bluford Library and elsewhere with young men.
There are positive things going on, but it is not enough. We need more. We need the city to embrace these kids and say your problems are my problems, your issues are my issues, your success is my success, your failure is my failure. Pretty simple.