Wednesday, July 23, 2008

how to deal with thugs: seriously, don't go back to rockville

Bad behavior on Ellsworth Drive continues to be a hotbed of debate over at Silver Spring, Singular this week.

Here's my thesis: there are some dumb fucking kids on Ellsworth who like to cuss out your daughters, cat-call your wives and girlfriends, and overall rain on your parade, and you're fed up with it. That's a given. But rather than take your money and time to Rockville or Bethesda this weekend, why not stay in Silver Spring? The way I see it, more people as a whole mean that the kids who are acting out become a smaller and smaller minority. If the Fed-Ups continue to be Fed-Up on Ellsworth, the Act-Outs will learn there's no reward in Acting Out.

Continue reading as I make my case. (I warn you, there will be more cussing.)

I'm male, a college student, and a minority. I'm in Downtown Silver Spring quite frequently - three times this past week - and I've never been mugged there before. I have, however, been yelled at, called names, and once even circled by a group of kids for change two years ago. I don't have kids, but I have a nine-year-old brother, and I don't want to take him Downtown for a movie if I know he's gonna have to put up with that shit.

That being said, though, I'm aware I live in an urban area. I expect there to be a lot of people when I go Downtown; in fact, that's why I go there. My favorite pastime was (and continues to be) "Count the Emo Kids." If you're wearing skinny jeans and bangs, I'll notice you. But when I see thugs acting up on Ellsworth, I look the other way.

Why? Because I have selective attention. I come to a place expecting to see certain things. Kids know this and will take advantage. If they know acting out will scare off the families, they'll do it. I've done it myself. One evening two summers ago I was hanging out with some friends in front of the bowling alley at the White Oak Shopping Center. I don't normally go to White Oak, because everything people fear about Ellsworth Drive is already there: loud arguments, fights (armed and unarmed), men (of dubious residence) wandering around talking dirty to young women.

People will still come to the bowling alley, but reluctantly. Noticing the very uncomfortable-looking (and predominantly white) families crossing the parking lot to the bowling alley, one kid suggested trying to see how nervous we could make them. As the next minivan unloaded, we sang "Happy Birthday" to the family as they approached us. The father put his arm around his daughter and drew her close. She was older, probably someone I'd gone to high school with. They started walking faster. And when they were inside, we laughed our asses off.

White Oak Shopping Center.

Some say "this doesn't happen in Rockville or Bethesda," but that's not true. I've worked in Rockville Town Square for fourteen months now, and I see the same behavior from the same damn people. Rockville appears "safer" because the demographics seem different, but there are plenty of poor neighborhoods in East Rockville or Gaithersburg or Wheaton whose residents come there to hang out. To me, this could mean one of two things: either people are deluding themselves, or Rockville Town Square has better security.

This is a lesson for Downtown Silver Spring. So long as we rub elbows with Bethesda or Rockville, the burden is on us to keep up appearances. Sligo at Silver Spring, Singular makes a good point in saying that people have the choice of going to Bethesda. However, I say that is not an option. I am in no way defending the kids who act out on Ellsworth Drive, but I don't think they're the problem. We have no control over how they act and where they come from. But we can control how we react to it, and the appropriate reaction IS NOT to run away.

Keep going Downtown, for all it's worth. Stand your ground: this is our community, we fought to have this nice shopping center built, and we're going to protect it. Set the example. If something is wrong, complain about it to the people who can make a difference. Tell the management at the Majestic that they're not doing their job. Tell Peterson Companies they fucked up, because you know Milty Peterson doesn't want bad press. Tell Gary Stith at the Regional Services Center. Write letters. Write blog posts. Write to me and tell me how pig-headed I am.

Maryland Avenue in Rockville Town Square.

But the biggest changes will be made not with large measures made by corporations or government but by the personal decisions you and I make each day. When you decide to go to Rockville or Bethesda instead of Silver Spring, those kids we complain about win. They've learned that if you fuck with a white family, they'll respond. And who loses? Downtown Silver Spring. Fewer visitors mean fewer reasons for businesses and developers to consider investing in Silver Spring, and the revitalization will come to a grinding halt.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is be pissed the hell off, which Silver Springers have shown quite clearly this past week. We need to make it clear that something has to change on Ellsworth soon - but you won't see anything get done if you're up in Rockville this weekend.


Silver Springer said...

Right on Dan! There is no "Heaven" in Rockville Town Center or Bethesda Row.

I took a friend to Rockville Town Center recently and the kids were cursing all over the place, a little profanity was surprising (as it would be from anyone anywhere) but I didn't right the place off and call it Ghetto like people are doing with Silver Spring.

What did I really think after that? I looked past that incident and to the majority of people enjoying themselves and I said to myself; finally, Montgomery County isn't so damn boring afterall!

And to all the families that will take their business elsewhere to Bethesda. Good luck! Just don't go there after 7pm on a weekend. This is 20's and 30's territory (I really envy Bethesda in this regard) full of those who can't hold their liquor and peeing in alleys. Do you want 7 year old Sarah seeing some guy peeing in an alley?

It amazes me how one the most liberal jurisdictions in the Nation can be so conservative sometimes. It's like what they say about Takoma Park, "they went so damn left they've turned right"

Saying perception is reality is dangerous lingo you may just be fooling yourself.

Davemurphy said...

I applaud this sentiment, Dan. I've said dozens of time that Silver Spring is a valuable cultural cornucopia, more vibrant, diverse, and pronounced than Rockville or Bethesda.

There is always a reason to bitch about a certain demographic. High school kids are rowdy. The disabled vets get obnoxiously drunk. [insert ethnic group] are loud and disruptive. The fact is, Silver Spring is one of the few places on this green earth that HAS that sort of demographic scope. It draws me down there. It's a great way to better understand people.

Admittedly, if I'm taking my nephews to see Wall-E, I am not there to people-watch, nor do I want to have to explain to them what "@#$%" means. The answer there is a more interactive security/police presence. They don't have to cite or arrest everyone there... but imagine what a help if would be if they simply approached them, told them what they were doing that was wrong, to stop it, and what the consequences of not stopping would be. Then enforce the consequences.

Harassment is a form of intolerance. The answer to intolerant people is not more intolerance of people, rather intolerance of behavior.

Sanjay said...

Teenagers are inherently among the worst demographic. Obnoxious. Roudy. Irresponsible. Ignorant. They think they own the world and can treat the rest of us like trash becuase they make $7 an hour at the local mall and have a drivers licence. They are the root cause of Silver Spring's current decline. There are simple solutions to these problems. Enact a curfew on individuals under 18, banning them from Ellsworth if they lack parental supervision, laws to restrict profanity, gum chewing, and the harrassment that goes on. Many affluent families are being scared away from Silver Spring to nearby Bethesda. Bethesda is quiet, clean, affluent, bustling, and simply a pleasant place to work, shop, and live. Silver Spring is dirty, full of bums (it even has a memorial to one of them and has labeled him as Mayor Lane). At dark, teenagers from broken homes come in to harrass local families, spit on sidewalks like animals, and utter the worst profanity imaginable. If we can get these kids off our streets and back into their homes we can recover whats left of Montgomery County's investment in Silver Spring.

Thomas Hardman said...

Excellent rant, Dan! Sometime maybe we can count the emo kids together. ;)

More seriously, Sanjay proposes that we just ban teenagers or at least restrict all of the behaviors that are considered typical, these behaviors mostly being what makes teens obnoxious.

A light illustration before I try to make my point: I have a friend with whom I attended HS many years ago. When we're hanging out together, many a colloquialism and doubtless a bit of foul language may pass in conversation. It's not that either of us is lacking in vocabulary; it's just that this is how the language flows.

You'd think that his kids would have picked up on this but strangely enough they don't much cuss in front of us and if we cuss in front of them, they're usually quick to call us on it. This has an effect, believe it or not, and I find myself a little less hasty to speak without a little bit more conscious selection of what I will or won't say.

As adults, we have to set an example. Sanjay would have us segregate the youthful from the more mature, yet if they have only their own example to follow, how could youth possibly pick up better habits and comportment?

Obviously there are some places where you don't want the teens to be, for example, in your favorite dive bar. Yet you also probably don't want them hanging out in front of your favorite dive bar to confront you when you leave it; you're neither going to be setting a good example if you're half twisted nor are you as easily able to maintain your composure if harassed. I'd say that Sanjay is right about excluding the kids, but mostly from the hard-partying zones, of which I doubt there are many in MoCo. But the nature of teens is that if you fence them out, they'll be hanging off of the fences trying to see the adults carrying on, and generally making a rude running commentary.

So what can anyone do? Trying to attract them to someplace "wholesome" is generally pointless unless their parents make them go. The only more certain death-knell for business than "wholesome" is "educational", at least for the teen market.

As to Rockville: once again, I couldn't really tell you, because as always, I experience The Mall People as The Mall People, strange incomprehensible creatures whose existence seems to revolve deeply around whether or not they can convince themselves that other people noticed them.

I suppose it is the formative basis of a social instinct, just not well developed into a useful form in the case of many teens and some young adults. A metaphor I use with myself that helps me tolerate it a bit is that of fledgling birds. There's a whole lot of flapping going on but not exactly much elegant soaring.

These Mall People -- whether or not they'll eventually learn to straighten up and fly right -- generally make me feel like someone traipsing through a penguin rookery. If I was a penguin that would be just fine, I guess; all part of penguinosity and an expected part of the vibrancy of penguin life. But I'm not a penguin and the penguins know it.

The penguins seem to see things in terms of social unit. They squawk less loudly, as a rule, at families or other groups traversing their rookery, than they squawk at individuals. But as an individual, it doesn't matter to me whether I am in DTSS or Rockville or Wheaton, I expect a lot of squawking and prodding and pecking. My only consideration is about how far I have to walk through a pile-up of penguins to reach my destination, which in general would be a multiplex cinema. Wheaton used to be good for that... no place for the penguins to take up station and squawk. Rockville? Hmmm, there's only one street between parking and the theater. DTSS? A veritable maze of penguinosity lies between me and the cinema. I went there one time maybe 3 years ago in broad daylight in early winter... and still doubt I'd ever go back. But my metaphors have become so mixed as to surpass digression.

So I must reprise previous theme: when you build a Mall, the Mall People will flock and squawk. It's inherent in the design of the place, and probably you cannot do anything more about it than you can do about squirrels in your bird-feeder. Build it and they will come; they must: it is their nature.

Anonymous said...

I like your spirit, Dan. And I will certainly hang with you and others like-minded in tactfully facing down obnoxious behavior in DTSS.

However, this is a worrisome report. As an old-timer Silver Spring activist, I can tell you this is just the sort of phenomenon that killed the once fledging City Place in the early 1990s: the perception that the place was taken over by rowdy, obnoxious, and dangerous teens. It's errie for me to think that it could happen again.

All of us who are posting these brave sentiments appear to me men. But any retailer (except a bar tender) will tell you that it's the women who drive retail shopping. And when the women bought into the perception that City Place was menacing, they stopped coming. When the women stopped coming, all of the higher-end retailers left City Place and leasing agents marketed as an urban (read minority) youth market. So came all the T-shirt stores and discounters. Which further reinforced the perception that City Place was a minority-teen's hang-out.

I'm not a racist or a sexist. I want these kids to stay. But the reality is that when middle-class women (of every race) feel unsafe, it's a MAJOR ominous sign for a shopping strip.

Doug Duncan understood this. When Ellsworth was just opening under his tenure, he over-loaded downtown Silver Spring with police presence. I was originally skeptical that Ellsworth could overcome the City Place stigma, but, knock-on-wood, in for the first five or six years, it looked like the beefed-up police presence had pulled off a turnaround.

However, the overloading of Silver Spring was accomplished at the expense of other areas like Long Branch and White Oak, which experienced growing crime rates. I don't know for certain whether Ike Leggett has spread the Police District 5 coverage further out to try and stem the troubles in White Oak and Long Branch, but I'd say it's a pretty good bet and we are seeing the results in the behavior on Ellsworth.

Implicit in what I'm saying is that we need professional police assistance along with the resolve of the fine and brave male posters on this blog to restore a balance in the street life in DTSS. It may be that Peterson will need to step up and provide high-quality security service to do just what someone on this thread posted: confront obnoxious and menacning behavior and issue warnings that it can lead to arrest and detention.

Another thing the Duncan people, like chief Moose, had going a couple years ago was the posting of numerous probation officers in downtown Silver Spring. When they saw their case numbers, they would approach and with them well, but implicitly warn them that they were noticed and being monitored.

It appears to me that it's going to take a pretty assertive effort along the above lines to curtail obnoxious behavior of teens. And if it's not done, I really fear that the history of City Place is coming close to repetition.

Anonymous said...

You are sooo right on. I'd never choose to go to Rockville or Bethesda over Silver Spring. I find worse problems there than in Silver Spring. As for the teenage problem - it's because they are somewhere that their parents are not around and can't see them. They are probably all "well behaved angels" when they are home or mom and dad are around. I know I felt free and independent and raised all the hell that I could on a Friday or Saturday night when I was a teen (quite a long time ago, but I still remember). If mom or dad was around, there was a night and day difference. I did some things that I still don't believe I did!!!. Including a few things that involved several rides to police stations in Montgomery County with my friends. I like the idea somebody else had about teens having to be accompanied by parents or a curfew or something.

Anonymous said...

BTW Dan,
What are EMO kids????

Sanjay said...

Mr Hardman, many communities have restricted teens where they have become such a problem. DC has a curfew. White Marsh Town Center has a curfew on its property. Many other retail properties have similar restrictions. Why cannot Downtown Silver Spring impose the same. Unfortunately we have people like Chip Py (and maybe Mr. Hardman) that want to unsurp property owners rights to protect their property. Ellsworth Drive and much of the Downtown Silver Spring complex is ground leased to Peterson Cos. What Chip Py and a host of misinformed elected officials including Ike Leggett have done is basically tell the developer that they should no longer enforce restrictions on that property. The Downtown Silver Spring complex itself does not appear dangerous. But beyond its confines likes thugs, creeps, and bums. Pushed out of Downtown DC by emboldened property owners and an activist city, Downtown Washington has prospered. Businesses in Bethesda have done the same. Silver Spring has always remained seedy. Silver Spring has companies such as Lee Development who have let their properties decay to such extent that Montgomery County taxpayers have no choice but to fund ongoing downtown development and give special exceptions and giveaways to Lee Development. And then there is Ike Leggett whose major ambition is relocating the County Service Park in Rockville. He has not aggressively pursued businesses to relocate to Silver Spring nor Wheaton nor anywhere else in the County. Instead of well-paying jobs for people in Eastern Montgomery, as well as new jobs and internships for young people, the only thing they are building in Silver Spring these days are apartment towers for wealthy 20 and 30 somethings. And the Planning Board is approving projects that are mediocre at best. Meanwhile Bethesda is getting luxurious new mixed-use development such as the fantastic new Bethesda Lane and the Trillium.

Thomas Hardman said...

Sanjay, all of ya,

The problem I see developing here is one of drawing lines, of being exclusionary, without having first done our utmost to be inclusionary.

Ms Cook makes the point that when parental figures (actual parents or just people in-loco-parentis) are around, youngsters tend to act in a more sensible fashion. Thus the logic follows that if the place appears to be crawling with adults taking an interest in what the kids are up to, and finding some way to involve all parties in mutually constructive endeavors, the problem of misbehavior of teens goes away, or perhaps the teens themselves do.

There are, as I recall, three levels of how society brings people into line. The first would be personal conflict, the second would be social mores or folkways, finally you have naked power in the form of police or even soldiers. Clearly we are somewhere around the first level, and the way to suppress what seems to be mostly personal conflict is to apply the folkways.

Needing to call in more than a certain number of law-enforcement personnel and tactics is a sign that we've failed at all lower levels of engagement and have had to turn from engagement to suppression. That's not something we should need to do, should we all start acting quickly enough in the right direction. We don't want to apply too much force in a manner that's ill-conceived and hasty. Nor do we want "paralysis by analysis" to let the problems take control while we ponder.

Anonymous at 4:19 (I thought anonymii were suppressed!) has an excellent point about the success or failure of a retail scene being whether or not the females feel comfortable. And we males like to think that we can mostly take care of ourselves. So perhaps if there is to be any effort by law-enforcement to step up to the plate, perhaps the "line that shan't be crossed" ought to be that of accosting females and especially of harassing minor females.

Dan Reed said...


the White Marsh Town Center is privately owned in its entirely, not unlike the White Marsh Mall across the street. We established last summer that Ellsworth Drive is a public space with corporate management. Just as there's no legal basis for stopping Chip Py from taking photos, there's no way to say you can't have so many people in groups, or teens have to have their parents along, etc. I'm not saying it's wrong or right, but it's not possible in this venue.


There are two working definitions of "emo" that I like to use.

1) fans of a branch of punk rock (defined not by a specific sound, but by more emotional, inwardly-focused content) that arose from the hardcore scene in D.C. during the mid-1980's (see bands like Fugazi, Rites of Spring, etc.) or throughout the Midwest throughout the 1990's (see Braid, Hey Mercedes, the Promise Ring, early Jimmy Eat World, though they're from Arizona)


2) fans of a cross-breed of pop and punk rock that arose in the early 2000's defined as much by its sound (whiny vocals, sometimes screaming) and image (bangs, skinny jeans, hoodies) as by the emotional content. (See bands like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Dashboard Confessional, etc.)

It's the kids in the second category that you'll see on Ellsworth Drive, and the namesake for this entire series. You won't find as many emo kids in Silver Spring as you would've two or three years ago, but as a fad/movement/scene it's still going strong enough that the Russian government is considering sanctions on emo kids.

Anonymous said...

LOL! That went way over my head. I thought you were going to say EMO kids meant East Montgomery County kids. Now I'll have to check out the tunes, then go down and watch the EMO kids myself.

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan, Debbie,

Those of us who were (waaay back in the day, or night, as it were) harDCore or New Romantics or what eventually wound up sorting out as "Goth" had this same complaint about those who came after us. Were they actually Goth or were they just "Spooky Kids" who bought their subculture down at Hot Topic.

All I can do to make this exceptionally less clear is to point you to the MySpace Page for the seminal DC band "No Trend".

The track "Two Seconds to Non-Existence" might rightly be considered one of the major lyrical precursors to EMO. Basically, "Everything turns to shit, and I know I'm next". It's sort of derivative of Goth in the same way that Goth descends from the existential angst of people like Sartre ("Hell, for me, is other people") and Camus. Okay, that's lurically, musically, this is really thrash.

"Mindless Little Insects" is what No Trend used to play to all of the people who thought they were the be-all and end-all of What Is Punk As F_ck. It's so horribly bad it's almost good. Almost. But not quite. Not really. Not Really At All. ;)

No Trend's "Teen Love" was once rated as being in the top 100 essential college tracks for the 1980s, and is reviewed thus: "[a] teen couple are reduced to robotic machines, slaves to current trends and societal expectations, their humanity gutted by the emotionless vocal".

Some might suggest that EMO as a musical scene is a sort of reaction against that tropism to robotism, basically a rebellion that dares to feel and act on the feelings. As No Trend says in their track "Die", "Die: Die Living. Die: Die trying. Suffer the agony. Die Living. Die trying." That might even be more EMO than EMO can handle. Hence the poseurs with the bad haircuts hanging out in the Mall and not quite getting it: the Mall is the last place that real EMO would ever want to be.

See also a Lyrics sheet, and I especially recommend "Kiss Ass to Your Peer Group" and the concluding lines of "Reality Breakdown".

I can't overemphasize the formative EMOness of the lyrics of "Teen Love":

They met during social interaction in Algebra class.
She was expressionless at first, but then "smiled" to indicate submission.
He rearranged his facial features to appear "friendly."
After determining that their popularity status was comparable,
they decided that a "relationship" would be mutually beneficial.
They were careful to be seen together
at the local fast-food franchises.
He had a stylized speech pattern.
She used all the newest slang.
When they talked on the telephone,
they had troubled generating conversation stimulus.
They programmed "arguments" into their "relationship"
to make their lives seem "meaningful."
They could act "really mad" or "happy" or even "sad"
according to the current pre-fabricated social circumstances.
He had programmed his "personality"
to conform to adolescent trends.
She had synthesized her "emotions"
based on accepted teen sex-role characteristics.
They had copied all aspects of their behavior
from what they had observed in society.
Ego complex, insecurity syndrome
Oo yeah, they were really "goin' gud."
They were killed in an auto wreck as they were driving to and fro.
After drinking two beers, he was pretending to be "drunk."
While the local popular radio station
played the newest pre-designated, youth-oriented "top-forty hit,"
he was decapitated in an explosion of flames and glass fragments.
Her body was found crushed into the dashboard.
A mini-cam report described them as "fine youngsters."
They never got a chance to fulfill their "career dreams."

That, y'all, is EMO as f_ck.

Anonymous said...

Two VERY funny videos from downtown SS. Signs of the fun to be had....

David said...

This is a great conversation. Thanks Dan.

I'm absolutely on board with bringing this to the property managers and local officials. They screwed up in a couple of ways, IMO.
1. The security is pathetic: they jump on people for taking photos, but won't protect people from verbal or physical harassment. In both cases, failing to defend basic human rights.
2. There is not a whole lot to do in Downtown Silver Spring(TM) except spend money. This is a failure of planning and creativity.

Thomas Hardman said...

Anonymous 1:41 posted a link to some YouTube videos of some "street characters from what looks like Ellsworth in DTSS:

About 29 seconds into it, note the ASL.

If these guys hadn't declared that they were from New Orleans, I'd have made the guess that they were gangstas hired by a rival mall owner to go annoy the customers into shopping elsewhere.

As it is, well, street theater can be entertaining but usually only if it has some sort of class.

Dan Reed said...

2. There is not a whole lot to do in Downtown Silver Spring(TM) except spend money. This is a failure of planning and creativity.

I'm not so sure about that; after all, aside from the occasional Chick-Fil-A sandwich or a movie ticket most of these kids don't come Downtown to buy things. There's "the Turf," a giant, unprogrammed (and soon-to-be-gone) space available for any sort of activity; Silver Plaza, with benches for congregating and people-watching and, of course, the big fountain where little kids can run around in (it is certified as a public pool). There are weekly (twice-weekly?) concerts in the plaza and, a little while ago, there used to be free movies on "the Turf." When they're completed, the Civic Center and Library will provide more free events/activities for people to do, though I wonder if they'll have them at night.

There could be more to do for free, but the question is: what else?

Anonymous said...

Oooh. Singing "Happy Birthday" at some girl. You must be the thug of White Oak. Remind me to stay away from there.

Thomas Hardman said...

Ah, the other night I was partaking of the vibrant street culture of Adams Morgan and wound up shooting the breeze with some character from down there.

I have to admit to a certain uncertainty as to how to try to get someone next to whom one is standing to moderate their conversation, specifically, to not have 90 percent of the conversation be (and I quote) "dazZAYAM that girl got da fine a55". Usually my approach is to just wander off somewhere, but almost anyplace I stand, someone inevitably comes up to me and starts talking about the ladies' posteriors. I'm not sure if perhaps I'm under some sort of really obscure curse, or if it's just that most males seem to think that along with the weather, the other "guaranteed harmless" topic of conversation is the quality of passing females.

Clearly we're not going to change millennia of culture, the character of the male animal -- or human nature itself -- just overnight or evidently not within even 40 years or so. All I personally can do is to not be the guy carrying on that way.

So, what do y'all fellahs think? Is it just inevitable that any street scene will attract the mackers?