Tuesday, July 22, 2008

how to deal with thugs downtown, or learning from new rochelle

Stealing a cart on Ellsworth: Sure, crime happens in Downtown Silver Spring. But who's to blame - and what should we really do about it?
"Our biggest problem is the teenage kids. Nearly every teen, white, black or green can't seem to resist talking out loud with 'Fuck' being every other word . . . or 'Bitch' . . ."

"More PG County and DC (Georgia Ave.) trash causing trouble along the Hellsworth corridor. Shocker."

"It's only matter of time before a kid is going to pull out his Glock 9mm and start shooting someone who dis-respected him."

"Why don't they have these problems in DT Bethesda . . ."
Mention crime in Downtown Silver Spring and you'll rip open a pretty big wound of frustration and resentment, as Silver Spring, Singular revealed last week, getting eighty-seven comments in response to a one-line mention of a fight on Ellsworth Drive. While there were a few accounts of fights or harassment on the street, most of the posts blamed Ellsworth's problems on kids coming from Prince George's County and the District. A few even claimed that those visitors would eventually bring down Silver Spring's long-awaited revitalization.

What many think could happen in Silver Spring has already happened in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City. Last Easter, it was rocked by a large riot at New Roc City, a nine-year-old entertainment complex that many credit for revitalizing its moribund downtown. The incident, in which one kid was stabbed and several others were arrested, had many in the community wondering if New Rochelle's rebirth had hit a major snag.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

New Roc City in New Rochelle, New York. Photo from the New York Times.

There are two major differences between the New Rochelle incident and what could happen in Silver Spring. The first is that unlike New Roc City, where most of its space is taken up by entertainment venues, the Downtown Silver Spring complex has a much wider retail mix. While the Majestic and fast-food restaurants like Potbelly Sandwich Works may attract young people, there are a number of high-end retail stores and sit-down restaurants that draw an older audience.

In other words, there's a more mature atmosphere in Silver Spring, because there are older people around to set an example for younger visitors. A riot could not happen on Ellsworth because the proportion of kids to the whole is considerably lower than that in New Roc City. And as the CBD redevelops, there will be more adult- or family-oriented venues that can further dilute the "high-school cafeteria" feel of Ellsworth without making it unwelcoming to the kids who visit.

The second difference, however, is the issue of taking responsibility, which goes in New Rochelle's favor. Rather than point fingers at the kids who flooded into the city from the Bronx, the complex's developers and community leaders made an effort to show how safe the area was. Deputy police commissioner Anthony Murphy insisted that the incident was "a combination of bad coincidences," pointing out that a few "hooligans" had overshadowed the "frightened teenagers who wanted to go home" but had gotten caught up in the melee.

Less than a week after the riot, hundreds of residents joined mayor Noam Bramson at New Roc City's movie theatre in a show of solidarity. The message was that they didn't need to close the city gates, because doing so would be a sign of defeat. If New Rochelle was as dangerous as people thought it was, why weren't they doing more to keep so-called "bad elements" out?

Crime may or may not be an issue on Ellsworth Drive, but the answer is not to point fingers. We should be glad that Silver Spring has become a regional destination for people across suburban Maryland and the District. While we need to ensure that our downtown is a safe place to be, it's important not to make anyone feel unwelcome. The last thing we want is for people to stop coming to Silver Spring like they already did thirty years ago.


Sligo said...

Who is being made to feel unwelcome? Are the teenagers in question reading the local blogs and neighborhood listservs?

74editrix said...

JUTP said, "It's important not to make anyone feel unwelcome. The last thing we want is for people to stop coming to Silver Spring..."

But that's kind of the point, no? I experience the kids' rampant misbehavior as intimidating and at times threatening. And the behavior, esp. on weekend evenings, is antisocial by most definitions. I had to run an errand there on Friday afternoon, and already 6 police cruisers were there trying to keep the peace. I don't feel welcome.

I don't care where the misbehaving kids are from, whether it's SS or DC or Mars -- I don't have to share space with intimidating behavior, and I don't have to patronize a commercial development that has not been able to control it.

So my family has, barring quick errands, stopped coming to DTSS much. As Sligo said, who exactly is being made to feel unwelcome here? I don't see the misbehaving teens leaving. They seem to be having a good time, even when they're fighting. I see peaceful people like my family being driven away.

Sligo said...

I missed the cart stealing caption the first time I read the post. A few weeks back I saw a family walk down Ellsworth with a Marshall's shopping cart right past security. Great job they're doing.

Thomas Hardman said...

> Dan wrote:
> In other words, there's a more mature
> atmosphere in Silver Spring, because
> there are older people around to set
> an example for younger visitors. A
> riot could not happen on Ellsworth
> because the proportion of kids to the
> whole is considerably lower than that
> in New Roc City. And as the CBD
> redevelops, there will be more adult-
> or family-oriented venues that can
> further dilute the "high-school
> cafeteria" feel of Ellsworth without
> making it unwelcoming to the kids who visit.

Dan, you touch on a larger problem.
There are classic studies which statistically link the age-demographic ratios -- of youthful folks to older ones -- to the bellicosity of societies in general.

I'd like to take it a few steps further. In general, though frequently neither the younger folks nor the middle-aged ones quite grasp this, there are systems in place which are very low-key and generally very diffuse which have their subtle ways of applying a correcting pressure (of whatever type) to misbehaving youth.

One of the signal epiphanies in life occurs when one reaches the awareness that you really haven't been getting over on anyone and that if you've been getting away with something, it's because probably quite a few folks discussed whatever you were up to and didn't see enough harm in it to engage the systems that could bring pressure to bear.

Yet these systems which work in all of the ranges right below the criminal justice system are systems which depend on the visible presence of older folks comporting themselves with some dignity. Just as much, it depends on people being familiar enough to identify. Criminal justice systems have their ways of making identifications after the fact, through means that are both intrusive and expensive, but if that's what's needed to solve a crime, that's what will be done.

But what of the levels of misconduct that don't rise to the level of needing immediate law-enforcement? All of that, again, depends on a significant fraction of those in the environment being either mature individuals comporting themselves with dignity, or younger folks acting mature and doing the same.

The problem that you see in some places is that certain kids think that they're in control. And to the degree they aren't restrained from that thinking -- forcibly if need be -- they are in control.

At most swimming pools -- which are clearly the playground of youth -- there's an enforced "adult swim". Almost no adults take advantage of it, and in fact there generally aren't all that many adults. So why have adult swim, even if there's nothing there but kids? It's to send the message that at least at certain times and places there will be order dammit, or people can just GTFO.

I just encountered this the other night, drinking at my favorite watering hole in Adams Morgan. Anyone who's been down there on a Saturday night knows that at last call, there damn sure is no "adult swim" happening, it's kiddie-hour pure and simple. It's a bunch of pups sucking down the alcopop tart fuel and beer bonging themselves into shooter heaven. As an adult, I take my life in my hands, or do I? A bar employee walked out for a smoke and her idiot BF confronted her and was getting abusive, and I took a risk, and asked him if he should be talking to that young lady that way, and he hauled off and popped me one. And I walked away and he started to come after me and evidently some of the older guys standing around trying to exude some dignity and comportment produced some badges and convinced the man that when he's wrong and someone points it out to him, doing something even more wrong only gets you some quality time with the local PD.

This is the same sort of thing that has to happen any place there are gatherings with significant imbalances of youth to mature or elder people. Even if you have to do something like have some retirees in tuxedos walk around telling jerks to behave -- with some unnoticed goons with discreetly bulging armpits and security-guard licenses unobtrusively standing by just in case -- you can't let the young fools wind themselves up to where they think they're bad and can do as they please no matter what.

Ellsworth is, due to private management, one of the places which could have an "adult swim". And really, there needs to be a level of adult present at all times sufficient and with sufficient authority to see when someone's stepping across the line and tell that person to GTFO in the most polite way that will be utterly convincing.

Why did the young fellow in Adams Morgan wind up getting the polite invitation to behave in a more gentlemanly fashion? It's not that anyone knew him as a troublemaker; like the kids at Ellsworth who come in from PG or DC because they think they can get away with anything because they are unknown, this fellow basically came downtown to harass and berate his girlfriend. It's more a case that the folks in Adams Morgan -- the ones who are from there and live there do in fact know me. I have street cred as someone they've been seeing for 20 years who generally comports himself with some dignity and may reasonably be presumed to probably be in the right.

Places like Ellsworth will stop having problems when the longtimer locals come out and play... but will they do that while the place has problems? It's a fine line and a tricky equation to balance. But whether it gets balanced from the very start is fundamental to how it solves out over time.

I will close with an interesting digression: a study on the prevalence of youth violence (Violence Is Common Among The Young
Abuse Most Often Comes From Partner, Researchers Find
) seems to indicate that violence is so prevalent among teens and young adults that it's almost expected and predictable. Basically, for too long we have looked the other way and said "it's none of our business". But it is our business, and we need to get on top of it before it gets out of hand, and errant youth assumes primacy and disrespect becomes the order of the day, and all problems are solved by violence as anarchy explodes through all of that shiny newness and teaches investors to just not bother.

John said...

I find it interesting that one of the quoted comments automatically assumed the teens in question were from PG county or Georgia Ave in DC. The bias is blatant. And as an outsider visiting DTSS, I could assume that they were all from DTSS. Has this person interviewed each and every teen that steps foot in DTSS? With the city connected to the region by a metro rail station, the odds increase that the teens could be anywhere from Springfield on the yellow line to Falls Church on the orange line, to, god forbid, Glenmont on the red line. Teens could just as easily go to The Mall at Prince Georges to hang out. Or even Crystal City. U Street? Chinatown? Etc. What makes people think DTSS is such a regional draw for teens? Can they not conceive the fact that most of these teens may actually come from their own back yards? Does the person who made the comment automatically assume that since most of the teens are ethnic that they could only come from DC and PG? What about Wheaton? Takoma Park? DTSS? To be honest, the only draw for a teen is the mall and the movie theater. Other than that, there's not much else for a teen to do but eat. Build a mall, kids will come. It's been that way since the 80s. Wake up. Teens are a regional problem. Not the "other jurisdiction's" problem.

Sligo said...

LOL "Mall at Prince Georges". cracks me up every time. It will always be PG Plaza.

Thomas Hardman said...


Teens aren't just a "regional problem", by their very nature teens are a problem almost any time you get a significant number of them thinking they're outside of accountability. Usually that means outside of supervision of adults who either have authority or know how to contact adults who do have specific authority over those specific teens.

Why would anyone assume that the teens in question are from PG or DC? Well, they could in fact just as much be from MoCo, they could be from Sandy Spring or Ashton for that matter. They could be visiting from Florida or Canada or wherever. That just misdirects the consideration from the fact that teens who are visiting the area and think they are unaccountable to anyone, are likely to be more troublesome than teens who are from the neighborhood and known to each other and to the rest of the neighborhood.

Most people learn by a pretty young age, you don't take a poop in your own back yard or you might be made to smell it for a long long time, to overwork the metaphor. They also probably get the idea that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or Silver Spring for that matter. Thus one can presume that if kids are causing trouble, they probably aren't local... unless perhaps they're local kids who think they need to defend their turf, because nobody else is. Or maybe they're just jerks... but I digress.

I see that there are a significant number of people on this blogsite as well as others who see a problem brewing, or already there. And I am not the only one who sees the best solution being to get more adults and families on the scene; if people want to go someplace to be idiots and then get there and find that they're outnumbered by sensible folks, maybe they won't be idiots.

Now it has been pointed out that all of these mall-like places don't expect to survive on local neighborhood business alone, they are developed with the idea that you attract customers from a much larger area. In the case of DTSS they want and need to have not just the locals, they need and want people from PG, DC, and probably Olney and Fairfax if they can get 'em. But they also need, in my opinion, to be cautious about being sure that they can deal with "flash mobs" and overflow crowds. In particular, they probably want to be fairly aggressive about making sure that this doesn't become known as a devil's playground.

Dan Reed said...

I received the following comment from Chaz:

I would note that most of the comments on singular's post were by or in reaction to one anonymous rogue commenter--that doesn't necessarily constitute a "big wound of frustration and resentment" to me.

To be honest, I generally consider the perceived fear of DTSS to be overblown. A cineplex on a Friday night is going to be full of loud teens, whether it's in Greenwich, CT, PG county, or Silver Spring. They're the target market for the movies. I don't see DTSS as anything special in that regard.

However, I was pretty surprised when I went to DTSS last weekend at around 10 p.m.--I admit I felt a little uncomfortable walking through DTSS with some friends. The girls in the group were leered at, and people generally didn't yield to one another on the sidewalks. I didn't feel "threatened," per se, but I was surprised at how tense everyone seemed. Without intending to, I had my guard up.

I hang out in DC a lot (no, not just in adams morgan and cleveland park) and I rarely feel that tension. It was disappointing. I don't really feel it's dangerous in DTSS, but I view it as a negative that I have to be aware of my surroundings here to that extent. I feel like this is a change that's happened recently. Maybe it's just a summer thing, I dunno.

Sligo said...

People actually do get shot in Adams Morgan, yet people will always go back. If the same thing happened here, I don't know if that would be the case.

Thomas Hardman said...

That's because there Adams Morgan wasn't just manufactured. It's a neighborhood that's fun, not a chain store peppered "destination". People in Adams Morgan, and a lot of the businesses there, go back 20 years or more.

That being said, one of my old timer friends down there mentions that right about last call, Really Scary People come out and line the walls, sort of like vultures circling overhead in those old cliche movies. He's right, and you have to expect that sort of thing in Downtown Silver Spring. If it's not happening now, "give it time" and if it's prevented from happening in DTSS, it will be happening on the fringes, between the well-patrolled zones and unpatrolled parking.

Sligo said...

Technically, Adams Morgan IS a manufactured neighborhood:

The Adams-Morgan Community Council, comprising both Adams and Morgan schools and the neighborhoods they served, was formed in 1958. The city drew boundaries of the neighborhood through four preexisting neighborhoods—parts of Shaw and Kalorama Heights, as well as all of Lanier Heights and Meridian Hill—naming the resulting area after both schools.

whibs said...

Hey, that's my quote at the top of the page! Just the first one, not the rest. I have zero idea where these teens are from nor do I care. It is all about quality of life for me and my family. We were in DTSS tonight and it was like every night we go down there. There is a constant unsafe feeling. The teens swearing out loud, the leering, glares, etc.

I have 2 young daughters and they've already seen and heard enough to keep me answering questions for a long time. Was in DT Rockville last weekend and it was heaven. No language, no packs of roving teens to wade thru.

I don't know what the answer is for DTSS, but I know our answer is we're moving not far from DT Rockville. Then, we'll have that and DT Bethesda to patronize. Not to mention schools for our daughters where disruptive behavior isn't the number one concern.


Dave Murphy said...

DTSS, as far back as I can remember, has always been a haven for punk rockers, skaters, and blue collar ne'er-do-wells. It's a big part of the culture and a big part of the charm. They're never going away, not as long as there is a Blair High School. Kicking them out of the plaza is not the answer.

In my opinion, ticketing them (and arresting, if need be) for harassing other patrons is a much more effective way of staving off unwanted behavior. Instead, they're going after the photographers. Sigh.

The scope of peoples that interact peaceably in DTSS is lost on a lot of people. The cultural, economic, religious, racial, ethnic, and familial lines that this one little plaza transcends is a testament to American culture. I don't want anyone down there excluded. But I do want them to be encouraged to interact constructively.

That having been said, I'm a six foot tall male with no children. I'm sure if I had a 13 year old daughter, I'd be much more weary. But a police force that aggressively targets sexual harassment in the plaza area would be far superior to one that targets camera use.

Dan Reed said...

Ed, sorry to see you go. Seriously. My brother, who is in elementary school, has a lot of school friends whose parents have given up on East County and have moved to Olney, or Rockville, or wherever. My mother is a realtor in Burtonsville and has worked with many clients in the same position. We all make these decisions for different reasons, though I'm disappointed that the situation in Downtown Silver Spring would be one of them. Or the schools, for that matter, but that's for another post.

Downtown Silver Spring has long been a haven for the "counterculture," if you will, but that doesn't make Rockville Town Square any safer. I know, because I work there, and there are plenty of kids out to cause trouble up there as well. They may not all look the same as some of the kids in Silver Spring, but the issues remain, and I don't think you can escape them without moving to a small town way way out in the middle of nowhere.

John said...

I think DTSS got the unfortunate opportunity by being one of the first urban town centers out of the gate. People have heard of it and are used to it. So, it's like an old comfy couch. As more developments come online near metro stations, they can potentially thin out crowds from other areas. Rockville Town Center just came online. University Town Center is slowly coming together. In a few years, East Campus will be coming online. While DTSS seeks to attract patrons from the metro area, there will be more choices for teens as well as adults. Being the only popular town center in an area can have its drawbacks in regards to huge crowds of unruly teens. By the way, what's happening at the rest of the metro stations on the red line past Silver Spring? Anything coming up that can thin out the herd?

retgroclk said...

Wait until they build the concert venue(Nations)-- if you think the crowds are bad now- it will get worse, there will be an increase in public lewdness, public drinking, littering, noise and who knows what else.

Dan Reed said...

John's right: there are a lot of other "town center-style" developments coming on line in the next few years. UTC and East Campus are just the start: there's also Konterra Town Center, Greenbelt Station and the eventual Springhill Lake redevelopment in Prince George's, Howard Town Center and the ongoing redevelopment of Columbia Heights and Petworth in the District, the Wheaton redevelopment and Glenmont Metro Center in Montgomery - not to mention, of course, Twinbrook Commons and North Bethesda Center along the other branch of the Red Line, Maple Lawn in Howard County, Watkins Mill Town Center up in Gaithersburg. I could go on forever.

But what these projects won't do is thin out the crowd. They'll provide more choices. Kids coming to DTSS, whether they're coming from D.C., P.G. County, or elsewhere in MoCo, already have choices where they want to hang out. New town centers will provide more choices, drawing more people. Some may even cannibalize each other the way malls have (Rockville Mall, anyone?) It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Silver Springer said...

While I like my time alone, I never understood why people refer to "crowds" as a bad thing.

If live nation fills the streets so what? It just let's me know that Silver Spring has reached a level of urbanity that's unmatched in the D.C. area.

I don't think people comprehend that Silver Spring's "crowds" rival some major cities.

It always brings a me joy to see the number of people who have chosen to make Ellsworth drive their destination.

The number of people and racial makeup in Silver Spring is staggering and an asset.

I really do believe that Silver Spring has successfully reached the equilibrium in diversity that cities across the nation are finding such difficulty to achieve.

Lili said...

I'm late to this thread, but wanted to add a comment. It's true that I'm not hanging out in DTSS late at night. I have a 4-year-old and we generally clear out by 8 PM. But I've never felt unsafe there and I think it's a fantastic place to go with kids on the weekend. We've got the fountain, we've got the astroturf (at least for now) and we get free concerts in the pedestrian zone 3 nights/week in the summertime. I see tons of families with young kids downtown at these concerts. Maybe it's a different scene later at night? When I'm there it's very family-friendly.