When I was 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 … you get the picture, I lived down the street from Bashford Manor Mall. When I had $5 dollars, I took that money and walked from my apartment complex, up the street and to the mall, where I knew I could play games in the arcade damn near all day.
When I was 12, my mother was nervous about letting my sister and me go to the mall alone. After all, we lived in the area where Ann Gottlieb disappeared. It was a scary time for parents, but my mother knew that we were young and interpersonal relations that we learned out of her eyesight were just as important, if not more, than the ones she taught us while we were under her gaze. She knew that we’d make mistakes, get harassed by mall “cops” and maybe come home a little too late, but she trusted us to use our best judgment and behave.
As we grew, we branched our experiences to the other area malls, Jefferson Mall and Mall St. Matthews in particular. We rode the 58-circulator bus and took our allowance and my babysitting money to spend in each of them.
Let’s stop here. Since the 1950s when teens began working and having money that was theirs to spend, the economic power of the teenager has been major. During the ’80s every movie made for teens involved hanging out at the malls. The teenager is not just a nuisance. The teenager is economically integral, especially to mall culture.
When the recent “Brawl at the Mall” happened in St. Matthews, the police inflated the number of children involved and followed through by pointing their fingers at parents and the lack of parental supervision — the oldest and worst excuse. Some kids had a fight at the mall (kids sometimes fight), and some other kids ran to watch. These were, at the time, African American children. Just a month before, two white kids had a fight during Black Friday, and it was just an unfortunate event.
So the police have decided that they will institute (I’m really trying to refrain from laughing) a policy to monitor the ages of kids who go into the mall and come from the mall and what time these young people can be at the mall unsupervised. Remember we are talking about the people who are the economic backbone of the mall and therefore the economic health of St. Matthews and the entire East End retail culture.
This is terrible policy. It sets up several very bad scenarios.
This policy gives police officers the opportunity to decide who they feel is underage, despite the fact that 16 year olds work in the mall. This is a hassle to both the young workers and the businesses that employ them.
It will inevitably promote profiling, and African American young people will suffer the most, especially if they don’t show up with mommy or daddy’s credit card.
The harassment of youth will only cause these children to seek their entertainment elsewhere and eventually drive them to spend their hard earned or gifted cash elsewhere. The culture of a mall depends upon the cash of the adolescent. Last year, teens spent nearly 260 billion dollars. That is significant. The annual income of United States teenagers is over 90 billion dollars.
I am a parent and hope that when my son grows, he will have the freedom to be a teen and to experience life the way that teenagers do, including all of the mistakes, disagreements, petty mischief and silliness that make being a kid fun. I do hope he is kind and that he mostly behaves wherever he is, but I don’t hold him to a standard that is unrealistic and I know that I can’t put restrictions on him that are equally unrealistic.
I hope that the mayor of St. Matthews, the police department and the governing body of the East End malls get realistic and realize where the bread and butter of their economy lies. It isn’t the car dealerships, though many of those cars are purchased for kids. It isn’t the restaurants. Chain restaurants are an outcrop of similarly packaged stores. The teenager is the support for all of these systems. Without their spending power, there is no mall, no economic stability and no reason for the St. Matthews police to have as many officers. Lose the teen and create an economic wasteland of Dollar Trees and Pic Pac stores. Old people really like those.