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I live on the far east side of Kansas City in one of the few completely desegregated neighborhoods in the city - it's probably around 50% white, 40% black, 10% hispanic. Everyone gets along fine and in fact, our neighborhood has one of the lowest crime rates in the city.

And no one freaks out about black teenagers.  Not so on the predominately white west side of town, where they're going through one of the most public bed-wettings I've ever witnessed.

Since the west side seems to view all black activity as criminal activity, here's how they see the current 'crisis' of black kids going to the movies.

The Crime Scene

 photo Country_Club_Plaza_1_Kansas_City_MO_zps90ad03f3.jpg
The Country Club Plaza, a tony shopping and dining district in midtown.

The 'criminals'

 photo black-kids-plaza-one_zps96c6b299.jpg
Black kids on the Country Club Plaza simply walking while black leaving the theater.  Note that some kids in the background are being rousted by mounted police.

The 'crime":

Last week, anywhere from 100-150 black teenagers were at the movie theater at the Plaza.  In this group, 4 - FOUR - were cited for either blocking traffic or fighting.  This is probably the exact same percentage of troublemakers - perhaps even a bit less - that you'd find with any group of teenagers of any race.  But apparently, for the west side it means CRISIS TIME.

I'll note that there isn't a single movie theater in the primarily black east side of town.  The easiest theater to reach via the ATA (busline) from the east side is the theater on the Plaza.  But, heaven help us, the Plaza is also the weekend hangout for suburbanites from Kansas and surrounding areas of the west side of KCMO.  How can they be expected to mingle with black teenagers?

In the past, the solution to reducing the black teen population in our 'entertainment districts' has been to enforce a 9 pm curfew.  Last year, 100% of the curfew violations were given out on the Plaza, the only convenient place for black kids to see a movie.  90% of those curfew violations were given to black kids.  Only about a third of these cases resulted in fines; hardly the kind of activity you'd think the police would focus on when the murder rate in this city is one of the highest in the nation.  

Last summer, police waded into a group of black youth with horses and 'large, fire-extinguisher like' containers of pepper spray to break up a fight - and a large number of kids were pepper sprayed who had no part in the fight.  The fact that no arrests were made and no citations issued makes one question the massive police display of force used.  Gee, the east side hardly ever sees this kind of police 'protection'.

The 'Plan'

So, what to do now?  Well, for this coming weekend the KCPD has had a brainstorm - rustle up some ATA buses, take them down to the Plaza, and offer free transportation to black kids - most of whom want to go to a movie - and bus them to the Brush Creek Community Center on the east side, which happens to be in one of the most violent and crime-ridden parts of town.  Transportation in the opposite direction - from the Community Center to the Plaza - won't be offered, natch.

Yes- they're going to try to bus kids from the (white) west side to the (black) east side so white people can feel comfortable shopping 'n dining.

So, if you're a good kid - and the low numbers of citations for fighting, etc show that the vast majority are - who wants to see a movie in a safe neighborhood, the KCPD wants to ship you out to literally one of the worst neighborhoods they could find (and where you can't see a movie).  Of course they assume that every black teenager on the Plaza is from the inner city and not from the suburbs and not from the west side - simply not true.  But nevertheless, they hope to bus you to Cleaver Ave and Cleveland, even if you have no way to get home on the bus from there.

The newspaper here, the Kansas City Star, has been whimpering for several years about the 'problem' on the Plaza and in the comments section you'll read people moaning about 'bad parenting' (did your parents accompany you to the movies when you were a teen? Mine didn't) or how the city shouldn't pay to entertain black kids at community centers, despite the fact that the kids at the Plaza theater pay for their tickets and really don't expect the city to do so.

No, this is about Plaza merchants not wanting black kids scaring away the white customers.  And the business community here carries a lot of clout.  Our black police chief has been fanning the flames of this hysteria, although he admits that most of the kids are law-abiding.  Our black mayor, uncharacteristically, hasn't had much to say (which is disappointing, as I'm a big fan of his).  

Busing black kids out of white neighborhoods - shameful.  And sadly, the west side seems to support it.

Originally posted to Dem Beans on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 04:09 PM PST.

Also republished by Kansas & Missouri Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What's the Pitch? --"Hey You Black Kids" (13+ / 0-)

    Or is there a sign at the upscale theatre with a color patch on it labelled "You must be at least this pink to enter this theater."

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 04:19:40 PM PST

  •  Interesting Photo (0+ / 0-)

    When I see a group of young males in baggy shorts and white shirts, I immediately think gang-wear regardless of race. If I saw them coming at me, I would give them a wide birth not because I'm a raciest, but because clothing in our society, clothing sends a message loud and clear. I feel certain that this guys have made a choose what to wear and what they are communicating by their clothing style. I'm not surprised that the police are looking at them.

    •  Wincing... (7+ / 0-)

      ... Because that reminds me of the establishment reaction to "dirty commie hippies" and our jeans and Nehru shirts (and hair!) in the sixties and early seventies. And to DA haircuts and rolled-sleeve t-shirts in the fifties. No, it wasn't about race then - but it certainly was a overreaction.  

      Of course, "contempt for authority and disrespect for elders" has been around a long time, at least from each generation's elders' point of view ... and a lot of that seems to have been focussed on the clothes choices made by the avant-garde of each newer generation, right?

      •  Not At All the Same (0+ / 0-)

        I actually googled before I post to see if my assumption was correct, and the fact is this is common gang wear attire, especially when you get a bunch of young males together wearing the same thing.  And gangs are way more then thumbing your nose at authority. They are a criminal organizations and their clothing choice is meant to communicate that they are not to be messed with. Hippies were communicating their contempt for the establishment by what they wore and  a lot of them were communist as in wanting to live in a commune.

        I stand by my assertion that clothing is a powerful means of speech and you shouldn't be surprised that people have a reaction to it. Just because you have a right to free speech does't mean other people have to like what you are saying.

        •  Did you know that Bruce Springsteen quit (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dem Beans, Youffraita, Ahianne

          community college because some of the other students there complained to the administration about how his fashion choices made them uncomfortable?

          These kids are dressed like teenagers anywhere in America, of any color.

          To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

          by UntimelyRippd on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 07:15:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm not the fashion police but (0+ / 0-)

            If you don't want attention then conform. If you want to make a statement with your cloths then have the courage of your convictions.

            I think we are having two different conversations. We live in a pluralistic society in which most of us have some values or identifications that are guaranteed to piss some percentage of people off.  If you dress in a manner that is the equivalent of announcing it to everyone who lays eyes on you, you are going to get the same reaction as if you had started telling everyone what you believe. If I see someone wearing a t-shirt with a huge swastika on it, you better believe I'm going to react to that person a lot like I would react to some who started sprouting off Nazi tenants.

            Now there is a difference between wearing clothing identified with some political movement and dressing in a way to please yourself. If you don't want people to stare and comment on your appearance then don't dress to be noticed. When I go out in pubic and people are dressed in very unusual ways, I stare at them and if I like their look, I'll  compliment them. Most people who dress differently want to be noticed.

            I suspect you think that I'm intolerant and want everyone to conform which couldn't be further from the truth. I really don't care what people wear and generally appreciate people trying to be unique.  Gang attire is a separate issue.

            •  That's the thing - in their neighborhoods, (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Dem Beans, UntimelyRippd, Ahianne

              that may well be conforming. Nobody thinks Mormon missionaries are up to anything nefarious, but they stick out like sore thumbs just about everywhere because that clean look their clothing gives them is NOT what anyone expects from guys that age anymore, not even the people who try to mandate it.

              It's white t-shirts and shorts, for crying out loud. Not anything associated with a specific gang or group of gangs. Guys at my high school wore t-shirts and shorts all the time when it was warm out and no one batted an eye... because they were white guys. And sometimes those t-shirts were white too.

    •  You can't be serious. (5+ / 0-)

      One of those boys is wearing skinny jeans and another is wearing cargo shorts... These are not the things of "gang-wear" whatever that is, anyway.

      An wearing all white t-shirts? Ha! Is like a gang from Westside story! Everyone run!

      (pretty sure you would be hard pressed to find an actual, criminal gang that requires their members to participate in a cartoon caricature of "gang life")

      Give me a f'ing banana - Eddie Izzard

      by linc on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 06:38:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And all but one of those white t-shirts (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dem Beans, Ahianne

        have sleeves. And even the one that does not isn't the 'wife-beater' cut, it's just a sleeveless t-shirt. Which means no one there is actually a match for the 'white shirt' stereotype unless you squint a bit or fail to realize that the stereotype is usually about a specific kind of white t-shirt.

    •  those kids in that picture ain't gangbangers (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassandra Waites, Dem Beans, Ahianne

      they look like normal kids to me. And by and large the real bangers you're thinking of are not, repeat not on the Plaza on a Saturday night.

      This is a worthwhile place to note that there's more to the book than the cover.

      You WANT me on that server! You NEED me on that server!

      by nota bene on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 07:33:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I should note (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne, Cassandra Waites

      that the photo was taken last summer.  If you've ever lived through a midwestern summer you'll understand why just about everyone wears shorts and t-shirts in the heat.  Even white kids!

      Gangbangers would be getting into running gunfights on 47th street, mugging old ladies, or carjacking people.  These things are NOT happening there so please keep your fear to a minimum.  

      If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." - John F. Kennedy

      by Dem Beans on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 09:25:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am seeing the message given of: (6+ / 0-)

    We're going to treat you like thugs and hodlums until you respond as such, so we can say "we told you so!"

    Wish I had enough money to charter a bus and send the kids to the movies and a pizza or burger (or whatever) dinner

    ''The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.'' - Justice Hugo L. Black of the Supreme Court

    by geekydee on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 05:31:20 PM PST

    •  They'll have a ton of curfew breaking to report (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dem Beans, nota bene, geekydee, Ahianne

      from the first day they do this.

      Offer teens a bus ride to another place to hang out, possibly without mentioning the 'no bus service back' aspect?

      They'll have to walk it, or have someone come pick them up. Some of them may feel have no option BUT to try to walk it, depending on when their parents are working and what he family vehicle situation looks like.

      Cue curfew-breaking by teenagers who were on their way home an hour or more before curfew was due to start but had that damn far to walk home from a neighborhood they didn't know.

  •  That's a lower per-group incident ratio than (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dem Beans, Cassandra Waites, susanala

    Justin Beiber's traveling entourage.

    Signature (this will be attached to your comments)

    by here4tehbeer on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 06:37:29 PM PST

  •  I live near 39th & Troost (NE of the Plaza) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dem Beans, Feadog

    I profess I may be ignorant about some aspects of this story, but I feel like there's more going on than just "rich white folks order centurions to get rid of the blacks." I work in and around this area and I've spent a fair amount of time hanging out with business owners, bartenders, bouncers, and security. While I have yet to actually personally witness one of these incidents, I've heard about enough separate incidents to believe that it's a real problem.

    There have been repeated outbreaks of brawls (bordering on riots) among large groups of predominantly black teenagers in the last ten years or so. I don't believe it's got much to do with movie theaters because it's happened in Westport too (and I rather doubt young black kids are flocking to the Tivoli to see foreign flicks). I have no idea if it's gang-related or just what happens when you have several hundred adolescents (of any race) with free time and no supervision in one place. The Plaza is basically a fancy outdoor mall, definitely aimed at upscale white folks, so it's easy to believe that they just want to chase out The Other--but Westport is a bar & restaurant district that's more diverse, way less haute, and full of artsy types and students.

    This new busing idea sounds preposterous to me--the problem is these kids don't have anywhere to go or anything to do. They need some sort of community center that they can walk to that can serve their interests. Are these kids coming from Midtown or Roeland Park rather than Ivanhoe or the East Side? Maybe, I don't know. Does anyone?

    As far as the low numbers of citations go, I'm not too surprised. That's what happens when you have a large crowd and only so many officers. They don't really give out many citations on Bourbon St at the height of Mardi Gras relative to either the number of people or the number of offenses for the same reason. It's not because they're well-behaved, it's because someone has to actually catch them. 99% of the crowd at an NFL game aren't going to cause a problem either, but you still need security on hand to deal with that 1%. In this instance, they're spread out over several square blocks with no apparent destination, which I can easily see would lead to difficulties for law enforcement.

    I have neither a good explanation nor a good solution....but IMHO the situation is more complex than just saying the "West Side"* of KC is having a "public bed-wetting." Oversimplifying the situation isn't serving anybody, least of all these under-served kids.

    * FYI--the "West Side of KC" usually refers to the mostly Hispanic neighborhood between 670, Broadway, 25th St., and the West Bottoms.

    You WANT me on that server! You NEED me on that server!

    by nota bene on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 06:40:46 PM PST

    •  The west side (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      has traditionally been west of Main.  

      What the kids need are movie theaters or bowling alleys or other such commercial enterprises that teenagers might find more interesting than a community center.  The main library does show movies, but none of them are very current.  Perhaps civic leaders might invest some money into the east side for theaters or such rather than having it filled with pawn shops, payday loan storefronts and liquor stores.  It's no wonder in this wasteland that kids go elsewhere.

      Personally, I think that to attempt to herd kids onto buses long before curfew, before they've done a single thing wrong, to ship them to  Cleaver & Cleveland Ave - one of the few parts of town I don't go to - isn't very complex.  It is what it is.

      If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." - John F. Kennedy

      by Dem Beans on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 06:56:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  you'd think (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dem Beans

        while we have a black mayor that the city gov't could figure out some sort of more constructive response to the situation. The one-way busing thing sounds like a farce to me.

        Putting some money into that community center seems like a decent idea, but the damn thing seems pretty isolated to make a functional "community" center. It's got the Creek on the south side, the four lanes & center strip of 47th on the north, and nothing at all to the east or west.

        The other thing they could do is build some sort of arcade that's open late within the Cinemark theater. The kids are already going there and they've got an awful lot of square footage in that building, but the curfew law is what ends up pushing them to Nichols Park clear on the other end of the Plaza, nearly a half mile away.

        You WANT me on that server! You NEED me on that server!

        by nota bene on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 07:25:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It'll be interesting to see (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ahianne, Cassandra Waites

          how many kids board that bus.  My guess: zero.

          It's a shame that someone doesn't do something with The Landing shopping center on 63rd - lots of bus service there, lots of empty space amidst the pawn shops and Rent-A-Center.  An arcade and theater would be great, and it would add to the redevelopment they've been doing on 63rd.  

          KCPD should be embarrassed by this scheme, but they really aren't in a position to get anyone to invest in the east side.  This is probably the only thing they can offer the public, even though it doubtless will be a spectacular flop.  

          If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." - John F. Kennedy

          by Dem Beans on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 09:19:24 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I spent 6 weeks in Stevens Point, WI, which is a (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Feadog, Dem Beans

    college town, while working for my employer in the 1970s.

    We were told to avoid the bar area on weekends because fights often broke out around midnight.  

    Out of curiosity we drove through the area earlier in the evening, and saw lots of small bars, each with two doors.  One door had a bunch of young guys pushing to get in, and the other had a bunch of young guys pushing to get out so they could go to the bar next door and repeat the process.

    It looked to me like it was so boring that by midnight I'd be ready to punch someone just to have something to do, and I haven't been in a fight since grade school in the 1950s.

    BTW, the crowds were basically white guys.

    My conclusion is that groups of young guys with not much to do, especially if they've had something to drink, are a problem waiting to happen, regardless or race or class.

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