|This latest reaction seemed to stem from events on April 9, which had less to do with the area’s teens than to a warm weekend that lured many people out of their homes and to the Loop. The area was overwhelmed by dense auto and sidewalk traffic, and the day’s festive mood was spoiled by an assault that didn’t involve a teen, but rather a young adult.
Teens on teens
Even so, the teen issue remains in the spotlight. Talks range from tightening the curfew to jumpstarting a regional discussion about alternative places for young people to gather.
Teens interviewed for this report were upset by what they see as rude behavior by a few spoiling the fun for everyone. In addition, some teens said they felt that they are being unfairly viewed as potential troublemakers.
Young people who spoke with the Beacon about these issues included two teens at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club in north St. Louis. The club requested that the names of the two be withheld..
One is an 18-year-old senior at Metro High School in St. Louis, who has earned a full academic scholarship to college. He says teens who might misbehave in the Loop “are looking for attention, crying out for something to do. So they might start fights. The outlet for them is fighting because that’s all they know. They need someone positive in their lives.”
More Hoover clubs should be built to accommodate youth in University City and other communities, he said.
The second student is a 15-year-old freshman at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy in St. Louis.
“I don’t really hang out at the Loop,” she says. “Some of us go there just because girls like shopping. But teenagers don’t always have a place to hang out because everyone looks down on you really, even if you don’t cause trouble. ”
Photo by Robert Joiner | Beacon staff
Corey Harris: “stupid stuff happens”
A similar viewpoint comes from Corey Harris, a 15-year-old St. Peters resident and sophomore at Fort Zumwalt East High School. He said he thought the curfew should be tightened if teen behavior is an issue in the Loop. The current curfew is 9 p.m. for teens under age 16 unless accompanied by an adult. Harris said some teens in various groups in the Loop and elsewhere tend to start trouble because “you want to prove yourself as tough.”
He doesn’t include himself in the group of troublemakers, but adds that when some teens are with their friends and away from the watchful eyes of adults, “you don’t really care about police. So I can understand why all the stupid stuff happens. You sort of disregard acting with sense. It isn’t the cool thing to do anymore.”
Harris has a passion for creative writing, which led him to become part of Corner Pocket, a program that engages kids in the arts.
“It’s a reference to pool where somebody has to call a shot,” says Martin K. Stallings, who runs the program. “The idea of Corner Pocket is to empower people to call their shots so they can win whatever game they’re in in life.”
Martin K. Stallings: “reach people where they are.”
Stallings said the key for nonprofits and other groups is to “reach people where they are” and help them grow through the arts and other activities through which they can express themselves.
Kids in Tucson, Ariz., are on spring break this week. That explains why 16-year-old Ayonna Johnson was in St. Louis with her mom, Stephanie Johnson, visiting relatives and taking a leisurely walk in the Loop late Thursday afternoon. She noted that Tuscon has no teen curfew.
“I can understand why kids want to hang out. Sometimes they just want to get away from their parents and the rules. We just like to get out and have a good time. I don’t think this is an issue in Tucson, but if there’s a problem, a curfew after 10 would seem right.”
Stephanie Johnson says, “Kids are pretty independent in Tucson. They don’t cause too much trouble on the side of town we’re on or that I’m aware of. It may be that there are a lot of alternative school programs there for children with behavior disorders. That helps out a lot.”
In the Loop
In some ways, these viewpoints aren’t far from those of U. City police. Chief Charles Adams and others say teens who congregate in the Loop include youngsters from University City, St. Louis and parts of north St. Louis County. He and other police say they base that on asking some of the youngsters for identification when patrolling the Loop. But police concede they have no exact numbers about how many of the teens are outsiders. Some also acknowledge that they cannot confirm the claim of some merchants that most come in from the Delmar MetroLink station.
Photo by Robert Joiner | Beacon staff
Stephanie (left) and Ayonna Johnson were visiting from Tucson, Ariz., where they said they aren’t aware of problems similar to what’s happening here.
Adams said, “It’s best that the media explain the situation rather than hype it. Everybody seems to focus on the police, but these kids have parents and guardians who need to understand where their children are. If they are 13 and 14, are they free to go to different parts of the city late at night? Just trying to narrow the issue to police isn’t the solution. Our job first and foremost is to maintain the peace.”
Rosenfeld, the criminologist, doesn’t second-guess the police presence or how officers have handled situations in the Loop, He said he feel that concerns raised by merchants are reasonable.
“There will be a need for a police presence, but you have to make sure the presence doesn’t escalate the situation,” he says.
Some critics seem to link teens in the Loop to the April 9 incident in which a police officer allegedly was assaulted at the Delmar Metro station east of the heart of the Loop. But the suspect, Chicory Griffin of north St. Louis County, was 21, not a teen. Police say the officer suffered a minor head injury when taking Griffin into custody during a gathering of at least 50 individuals at the Delmar station. Police said most of them were juveniles.
Public reaction to the issue itself is mixed, with a variety of solutions both proposed and dismissed.
Finn Esbensen, chair of UMSL’s Criminology Department, says St. Louisans would be misguided if they buy into the argument that teens have nothing to do. He says all his research across the country shows that kids repeatedly say there’s nothing to do no matter where they live.
“It’s the perception that they have that if anything is structured, that means it’s not good to do.”
Some, though, like Cathy Farrar, of O’Fallon, would like to see “more walking patrols that are friendly with kids yet professional. There is a strong distrust or dislike of law enforcement by some kids.”
Jen Amunategui of Florissant strongly backs a tighter curfew, saying “I’m selfish enough to want a peaceful outing.”
A different viewpoint comes from Sarah Griesbach of St. Louis. She decries “the sight of police hassling all of these kids without a fun weekend hangout.” She also says St. Louisans “keep embarrassing ourselves by kicking the black youth out of public places.”
Others challenge that view.
“It isn’t an issue of color,” says Mark Ashby of Clayton, “but of behavior and lack of respect for civil behavior. The real issue is that young black folks here are not held accountable to social mores of civility and respect. It’s about ‘taking’ and ‘getting mine.’ ”
Some communities are introducing new programs to engage their teens. One is a youth initiative in Ferguson, says the Rev. Steve Lawler, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. “We’re experiencing some of the same concerns” as in University City, he says. “We have a lot of great kids, but they have a lot of time on their hands and they want to wander around and hang out.”
Flint W. Fowler, president of the Hoover Boys & Girls Club, says activities at his organization mean teens spend less time at sites such as the Loop.
“Young people benefit from structured, supervised activities in a safe environment. Unfortunately, many youth have not developed the social and cultural competencies needed to effectively navigate every environment. Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club provides mentoring and other activities that bring caring adults into the lives of kids who can help guide and encourage their development. The earlier these relationships are formed, the more effective they will be.”
A broader proposed initiative comes from University City Mayor Shelley Welsch. She says that teens are lured to the Loop partly because of curfews in many area shopping malls.
“I’d like to start a regional conversation on how the city, county and municipalities might work together to make clear what opportunities exist for kids so that they can have something to do other than just hang out.”