Put the brakes on this tour

Aug 12, 2009 at 5:00 am

Three strikes and the Russ Parr Bus Tour should be out
of Louisville for good.

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way now: Russ Parr has a nationally syndicated morning radio show. His bus tour — which last week stopped at the Kentucky Convention Center for a free rap concert and school-supplies giveaway — is sponsored by Radio One. I work for a competing radio network.

Nevertheless, my feelings have nothing to do with airwave competition and everything to do with common sense, safety and general outrage that this downtown debacle should never be allowed to repeat.

Cab drivers noticed it first: throngs of scantily clad teens and pre-teens milling about downtown as early as 4:30 a.m. last Thursday. As the sun swelled in the sky, so did the number of kids. According to some estimates, 5,000 were gathered by 6 a.m.

While the intent of the grandiose publicity stunt seemed good, the result most certainly wasn’t. When the freebie concert concluded, the Parr folks blew town for their next destination. Many of the thousands of kids stayed put. During the concert, Parr had kids yell out the names of their neighborhoods. Instead of inspiring hometown pride, it fueled an after-show turf battle, one that started on the sidewalks surrounding the convention center and eventually spilled into the streets.

Professionals working downtown and those driving into the city to do business said they saw so many police cars they feared a bank robbery had occurred. LMPD’s response was justified. Teens — boys as well as girls — had started fights and blocked traffic; some jumped up and down on parked cars. Police made 12 arrests.

Louisville is lucky that’s all that happened. Had someone used a weapon or gotten physical with police, I might be writing a different story.

Police Chief Robert White demanded that the event be reassessed before it gets the green light for next year. Thing is, it shouldn’t be. Forget reassessment and promises of change. This is the third year that the Parr Tour has caused serious problems. This year the event was even moved indoors to avoid issues encountered on the waterfront last year, namely kids suffering from heat exhaustion.

The problem isn’t the venue. It’s the event and its organizers. One Parr tour rep flatly said that crowd control and security weren’t the radio show’s responsibility. Ask any concert promoter: They most certainly are. The rep also blamed the concertgoers’ recklessness on the LMPD. He later apologized, but with an attitude like that — concerning an event that caters to children — do we really want to invite these people back?

Another contributing factor was the almost universal lack of parental involvement. Observers cited seeing children as young as 7 and 8 years old in attendance — only some supervised by slightly older siblings. Granted, it was a weekday morning when parents and guardians had to work, but who just dumps children or even young teens off at a public place in the wee hours of the morning to fend for themselves? Apparently all too many adults in our community, and because they do, it’s time the rest of us step in and end that practice right now.

But what the television news stations avoided saying and most discussions danced around is that almost 100 percent of the kids who went to this concert — and were involved in the resulting melee — were black. And that fact has given the bigoted plenty of ammo to cough up statements like “What else do you expect?,” “Most of those kids don’t even have parents,” and “You can bet most of their fathers are in jail. No wonder they don’t have any respect for authority.”

Would white kids have gotten into similar trouble? Maybe. Maybe not. Would I or anyone be as quick to urge the discontinuation of a free school-supply event if the kids were white? Absolutely.

Lawlessness and public disturbance don’t come in colors. Kids from all walks of life and races get in trouble. When it becomes habitual and we know the impetus, we need to make changes. When changes don’t help, we need to eradicate the problem’s origin.

Metro Council President David Tandy, D-4, perennial local sponsor of the bus tour, seemed mildly upset about the fracas. When questioned by reporters, he said he’d better scrutinize the event.

This group has had three years to fix the problems that accompany this bus tour. Do we need to wait until a child, bystander or police officer is seriously wounded — or even worse, killed — before we put the brakes on this thing?