Monday, March 16, 2009

guest blog: one step forward, two steps back

The following is a guest post by a Pershing Road resident who's lived in Silver Spring for forty-two years and attended last Saturday's "Stop the Violence" concert with her three kids. She laments that there are too many "bad apples" in Downtown who lack proper supervision, and not enough to do for the good kids who frequent Ellsworth and Fenton as well. Also read our previous guest post about the events.

I was asked to comment on this blog. I admit I was hesitant to do so, as I don't really feel like being trashed, which I surely will be, but what the hell. I'm a big girl.

In light of recent events, namely, the aftermath of the Mixed Unity Stop the Violence concert in downtown Silver Spring on Saturday night, area residents are up in arms. Some are angry, some are scared, some are fearmongering, some are genuinely fearful, some are complaining, some are whining, and some, like me, are very pissed off. Some are planning to escape to the safety of Bethesda where there are no gangs, drugs, go-go, crime, violence, Black people or Latinos. Yeah right, good luck with that.

Some are writing letters to County executives, the management company, the fire marshal, the concert promoters and sponsors - GREAT JOB, by the way, ya'll. Some are tearing up their neighborhood listservs. Guilty as charged. The listserv, that is.

The intent of the sponsoring organizations involved was good and should be commended. Their message was a positive one that definitely needed to be heard. But you know what they say about "one bad apple...". Too bad, so sad. It IS sad, actually, that a 'stop the violence' event ends in beatdowns and pepper spray.

I was quoted, sort of, in a recent Gazette article about the incident on Saturday night, as saying: "[The concert goers] were rowdy, loud and impolite. There needed to be more adult supervision." Or something like that. I probably did say that at the end of my REAL comments, which were more along the lines of:

"They were rude, crude and lewd, they acted like they had no home training and had no manners at all. I'm tired of seeing the cracks of their asses and their belly buttons, tired of the foul mouth language, and tired of their cocky-assed attitudes. They all need to have a good ass whipping. Their parents need ass whippings too."

I don't need to have my 12 year old son hear a 15 year old boy tell his mother (me) to "get the fuck outta my way." All because he didn't want to be near my dog. Of course, he could have just moved a few feet away if he was nervous. After all, my dog actually lives in this neighborhood; the boy said "we ain't got no big mahfuckin rockwilders [sic] in my hood". Which doesn't tell me much, exactly, except that he didn't live in DTSS.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

I have seen both Silver Spring and our neighborhood change in many ways, both good and bad. The "youth" and their behaviors are a problem, no question about that. But it's more an issue of lack of basic home training than it is anything else. The deeper issue, however, is not really gangs, go-go or security, it's the lack of civility and decency and basic manners being taught to anyone anymore. I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but I'm not. I just happen to be an old-school type of parent and citizen who rues the day that civility went away. Oh, and proper parenting, too.

The whole reason why I happened to be at that concert at all is because I felt it inappropriate that my three children, who are certainly old enough to do so, should be out after 8:00 at night "hanging" in the street, not involved in any productive, supervised activity. Damn, am I glad that I went with them. I hate to think of my kids being caught out in that mess without me. I had not yet had the opportunity to teach them the "How To Run From an Onrushing Panicked Mob" lesson, "Escaping Possible Riots 101", or even "Pepper Spray: The Basics".

Which brings me to my other point. There is NOWHERE FOR THEM TO GO. There is NOTHING FOR THEM TO DO. Our lovely DTSS has shops (most crappy), restaurants, and the Majestic. That's pretty much it. If there was some other supervised, organized activity for the kids to participate in, they wouldn't be hanging out in the street. Well, some of them would, but lots of them would prefer having something to do.

I don't know gangs. I don't know gang insignia, tattoos or colors. I don't know a Crip from a Blood from a Hare Krishna. I don't know if the incidents on Saturday were gang-related. I was there and I still don't know. Some believe it WAS gang-related. I'm not saying they are wrong, I just don't know. I DO know, however, that the kids - as a rule - have no respect. No respect for anyone or anything. Not their parents, not authority, not property, not each other, not even THEMSELVES.

It has been said that "it takes a village" to raise children. True, true. But if some of the villagers would just as soon shank you as thank you, who the hell wants to live in the village?? And if I'm raising my little villagers to be proper and upstanding citizens, why do the other parents get to dump their villagers off on the rest of us to raise?

It has been suggested that Ellsworth should not be closed on the weekends. For the record, I love it when the street is closed off to vehicular traffic, and I really wish that block of The Promenade Ellsworth between Georgia and Fenton would be closed permanently. That way, there could be some REAL green space built into the design, and no one would have to worry about being run down. The skateboarders could skate (YES, they should be able to – yes, they can be annoying, but at least they are doing something!), the adults who want to hang out with their kids could do would be like the Fake Green Grass all over again. God, I miss that space, contamination and all.

It has been suggested that the police officers shouldn't station themselves at the barrier. For the record, I like seeing them there, they are readily available if something should happen, and since they are there every weekend, they get to see and know faces and people and behaviors, and are likely to anticipate when someone is really causing trouble and when someone is just showing off or trying to get attention. Just like the old cops on the beat back in the olden days. No, I am not old enough to remember those days.

I also must admit that, though I do not fancy a police state, I DO wish that our local officers had more authority to bounce rowdies out of town. They can't though, because everyone has "rights". To me, if you cannot behave in a civilized manner, your "rights" are effectively rendered null and void. Where's Robocop when you need him?

DTSS is a far cry from what it used to be....ancient warehouses, barren blocks, and dusty repair shops. Yes, I'm old enough to remember them. But it's also a long way from what it COULD be. It's also a long way from what it was before Our Youth discovered it as a hang out place. I'm not against kids....I have three. I'm against rude, rowdy people with no apparent direction, manners, or respect, and parents who just don't seem to give a damn. I said that already, didn't I?

I'm sure there are a lot of people who feel exactly as I do, but they don't comment on blogs or post like mad on their neighborhood listservs when they get heated about an issue. I'm sure there are just as many who think that I am a Big Brother loving, white, liberal, Republican, racist elitist. Or so said a few people who sent me private emails in response to some of my posts on my neighborhood list. Funny, funny stuff, that. Newsflash, my lovelies. I am not into Big Brother. I am not racist. I am not a Republican. I am not an elitist. I'm not white, either. I AM a liberal, though. You did get that one right.


Thomas Hardman said...


The one thing that strikes a stronger chord to me is the statement, in ALL CAPS, that maybe the biggest problem aside from bad parenting is that the kids have nothing to do.

Back in the day when Aspen Hill was overrun with teenagers and not enough adults to supervise all of them, we teenagers had the same complaint. And it's never gotten better, not really.

Oh, during the summer days there's the pool if your family can afford membership, or if the pool at your condo/apartment complex is fit to swim in; there's the Recreation Center over at Bauer Drive and MD-28, but the kids who need access to it can't easily get there by bus and it's way too far to walk. So what is there to do?

Head on down the the stores, and annoy people there and/or get into trouble there.

There's a deep and unsatisfied need all across the County for youth activity where it's something that interests the kids and to which they actually wish to come.

It's time to remedy that.

Thomas Nephew said...

Do either of you think the coming Silver Spring Civic Building @ Fenton & Ellsworth will help?

Unknown said...

I'm close in both age and vicinity to the guest commenter (and I share her warped view of end-of-the-world fun). I agree that the biggest problem facing us is the erosion of basic, common decency and manners. It does sound fuddy-duddy, but whatever happened to respect for adults by kids?

When I was in school not even the hoods mouthed off to the teachers, and when they did it was a scandal. That was in the 70's. Is that now ancient history?

A telling anecdote: in my old elementary school playground there sat a huge boulder, perhaps 10 feet high. It was fun to scramble up it and just hang out. That boulder was ancient, and up through the late 1980's it sat regal and unmolested. The last time I saw it, perhaps 10 years ago, it had been covered in graffiti. A small thing, but sad to me, and indicative of the lack of respect for anyone and anything around.

jen said...

So downtown Silver Spring "only" has free concerts, stores, restaurants and a movie theater? Even if it were true, that's much more than is available for most kids in this country.

Oh but wait, we shouldn't have any more free concerts, right? This is confusing -- is the problem that Ellsworth attracts the bad element with its activities or that it doesn't have ENOUGH activities to keep the bad element occupied? I'm getting dizzy with the circularity of these arguments.

No matter how many wholesome activities are available, there are going to be a lot of teens who don't want to do anything that doesn't involve hanging around, swearing, fighting, drinking, and fucking. That's been true for over 60 years and it ain't changing any time soon. And for at least as long, parents have been covering that old tune about the bad manners of "these kids today."

(And here's a newsflash: have you been on the Metro lately? Because the adults in this town have just as bad manners and foul mouths as the kids on Ellsworth.)

It seems to me what the chicken littles really want is not more activities but ways to shield their delicate sensibilities and/or their good little children from the bad kids. That's fine, have more of a police or security guard presence on Ellsworth and push the bad kids out of the public eye and make them go find private places to drink, swear, fuck, and fight like we had to when we were young. (Tip for the teen readers: out on the playgrounds of local elementary schools was usually a good bet back in my day.)

I personally think our resources are better spent on having law enforcement actually fight crime, but I'll go along with it just so we don't have to hear this tired old song any more.

Mortis Olaf said...

Perhaps the solution isn't to make Ellsworth better, but make the rest of Silver Spring better. If you think there's nothing to do on Ellsworth, what does that say about the rest of it? You can only get your hair cut so many times before you have nothing left to cut. I suppose the improvements are trickling in, but still, there's not enough effort. On top of that, people keep opposing new developments. I'd also argue that lowering the drinking age, and possibly legalizing marijuana would eventually lead to improvements, but that's for another debate.

jen said...

Can't get this song out of my head: kids

Dan Reed said...

Perhaps the solution isn't to make Ellsworth better, but make the rest of Silver Spring better.

A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say, but Downtown Silver Spring as a whole needs to step up its game if we want to stop having so many crowds on Ellsworth - more stores/restaurants/venues/whatever on Fenton, Wayne, Bonifant, Colesville, etc.

There are probably as many kids who hang out in Bethesda as there are in Silver Spring on a weekend night, but they have more places to go within the business district - the Regal 10, Gifford's, Barnes and Noble, and the new Bethesda Lane. And, of course, these places get foot traffic from all age groups. There definitely isn't enough going on in Downtown Silver Spring - the crowds that currently go to Ellsworth and then stay there make it clear.

Thomas Hardman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Hardman said...

[Sorry to delete and repost, but typos made it almost incomprehensible. My apologies.]

To clarify a point I didn't quite make earlier.

There's nowhere near enough free or inexpensive stuff for youngsters to do.

I'm thinking that perhaps one part of the problem was that there was:

1) something free to do.

2) something free to do was so unusual that would in itself attract a huge crowd

3) something free to do was actually interesting and relevant to the people attracted in a huge crowd, make the crowd even more huge

4) in that big a crowd, good manners and even formality is essential.

One of the civic activists in the crowded apartment/condo neighborhoods of Aspen Hill was a big proponent of pubilc playgrounds. In part due to Mr Kauffinger's (sp?) efforts, we got the playground in North Gate Park very much restored and upgraded, and we've been working for nearly 8 years to clean up the park and keep it cleaned up. Where that park used to be a place that parents forbade their kids to go, now it's a place where even moms with strollers hang out near the playground, and there's usually a game over on the soccer field.

Mr Kauffinger's main theme when he was trying to plead for more playgrounds was that a lot of parents brought their kids inside after school, shut the blinds on the windows, and pretty much locked the kids in for the night.

In that sort of social isolation -- where people are mostly inside, and anyone outside is rattling around pretty much all by themselves -- you don't develop social skills, other than the ones you use at school. And once school's out, so are the social skills appropriate to school.

Contrast and compare with the Japanese, where almost anyplace is very crowded, people have to deal with other people all of the time, and it's been that way since the time that samurai would chop off the heads of rude people.

No, I am not suggesting that we should hire some Ronin, or for that matter, Politeness Man. It's not a bad idea, actually, but I'm not suggesting that. No indeedy.

However, next time you're thinking of voting, get the candidate's position on promoting common Civility. If they don't think it's important, ask them if your taxes for the schools also includes a free subscription to a lifetime supply of pepper spray, because that's probably the what you'll need as the end result of a failure to teach civility both in the schools and at home, and to insist on it in all public places.

Unknown said...

The neighborhoods where many of these kids come from also need to be revitalized, so that the kids there can go to local movie theaters and teen-friendly restaurants and whatever else attracts kids today. DTSS suffers not because teens frequent it, but because they do so in large numbers in a too small space, which is a formula for trouble for them, and hassles for everyone else.

And Mr. Hardman is dead right. We need to teach civics and civility in our schools. Yes, teens have always been a pain in the ass to adults, but there is no doubt that the violence and disrespect they exhibit is far worse than it used to be. Frankly, it is absolutely unacceptable, and if their parents won't raise them right, then it's up to the rest of us to make sure they grow up to be decent human beings.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Nephew, I don't know if the new civic building will help. I guess it depends on what type of events are held there. I doubt the ice rink will help either....and what will the ice rink space be in the warmer weather?

Mike, you're right, of course, about "if their parents won't do it". But it sucks, particularly since we can't backhand them for being so rude and calling us bitches and muthafuckas right to our faces. There's no reasoning with that kind of disrespect.

Like I said, I am raising my kids to be civil, community minded, respectful and respectable citizens. No, they're not perfect, and they have their issues just like any other kids, but they don't embarass me in public - whether I am present or not. And much as it might seem to the contrary given what I wrote originally, I don't have to dole out ass whippings, either.

I have some friends that live in Woodstock, VA, and when we go down there to visit, it's a culture shock. It's a small, sleepy town in the mountains and there iS NOWHERE TO GO and NOTHING TO DO. Except go to the WalMart, which is open 24 hours. That's where the town kids hang the WalMart parking lot.

That's where they go after the only other thing in town closes. It's a small "fun complex" type place that has all under one roof: arcade, roller skating, indoor toddler play park, indoor miniature golf, and laser tag. It's a small, smelly little place, but we could use some form of that here in our area. Not on Ellsworth, but very maybe Fenton street. The kids would be contained, security could be maintained, entry could be denied for anyone who isn't behaving in a civilized manner, and they wouldn't be standing out on Ellsworth blocking people's way and shouting obscenities to passersby.

When I hit the lottery one day, if I ever play, that's what I am going to do with my winnings.

Of course, if I owned the place, you'd have to pass an ettiquette course in order to gain entry. I'm just saying...

Thomas Hardman said...

This lack of "stuff to do" is evidently all over the area.

Okay, can we all put our heads together and try to come up with some ideas for things that don't cost all that much (I mean, are really inexpensive) and that would actually interest kids? Keep in mind that some things are fads and we wouldn't want to throw too much money at it just to have it become unused. Other things are enduring even though they started as fads, for example skateboarding. I realize that there are some skate-rats who will decide that half of the fun is boarding where they're not supposed to do that. But there are probably a lot who are just trying to get some time in, get basic practice.

Maybe we could reserve one deck of a parking garage for them, one that's already built? I mean, if there's some parking lot deck that's usually empty and usually has skate-rats, why not just declare it "official" and slide some money to the owner/management for insurance purposes and maybe hire a security guard or two. That would not cost as much as a new Rec Center, that's certain.

But again, we need to start stressing Civility! And we need to start stressing it everywhere, and not the kind of civility that you see in a lot of places around here, which amounts to smile in the face and then stab in the back. That is really the Anti Civility since it gives people incentive to just get in your face and stay in your face rather than pretend to be nice when they know what they're getting once they're looking the other way. Indeed, that's a heinous practice that promotes the kind of stuff we're seeing in a lot of kids. So let's stomp that out first, then work on promoting the Real Civility and then people will only have the experience of decency and that ought to make them genuinely nicer, which is after all a laudable goal.

Dan Reed said...

Put it on the roof of the Town Square Parking Garage. Seven stories up, amazing view, and it's never really used, so far as I know.

Thomas Hardman said...

That'd work, I guess!

Now to get the folks in charge to sign off on it...

Or, here's an idea. Take someplace like the local park that might actually have a fair number of folks out there in the nice weather. Put up some event-tent tarps so it's also a place to hang out when it rains. Add a wireless access point or two and maybe a public boom box with limited volume... instant outdoor dance hall? Not that expensive, serves a certain public. Everyone's happy or at least they aren't raising cain in DTSS.