Tuesday, July 13, 2010

don't let fifteen bad apples spoil the bunch

Yesterday's post on the newly-opened Veterans Plaza at Ellsworth and Fenton received a number of nasty comments equating kids who skate in the plaza with criminals. As David from Greater Greater Washington points out, many people carry a bias against skaters and young people in general. Unfortunately, a violent incident last night in downtown Silver Spring could only make it worse for them.

From the Gazette:
Fifteen people were arrested Monday evening after a group of teenagers harassing pedestrians in downtown Silver Spring slammed one man to the ground, breaking his face and drawing the attention of several eyewitnesses.

One man from that group was approaching random pedestrians as they walked by the outdoor eating area outside the Baja Fresh restaurant. About 15 different people were accosted by the man, who was standing inches from the victims' faces and "verbally harassing" and "making crazy sexual comments" to passersby, said Chris Wilhelm, a Silver Spring resident who was reading a book nearby.

One middle-aged man tried to ignore the teens and walk past them, but as he walked toward the intersection of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue, the teen who was accosting pedestrians slapped the man in the back of the head, Wilhelm said. When the man turned around and showed his frustration, at least one other member of the group punched or hit him in the side of the head, according to witnesses and Montgomery County Police.

The man fell, and his head slammed against the red brick sidewalk.
Absolutely heartbreaking. An innocent man was seriously injured by some dumb fucking thugs who clearly had nothing better to do than to harass people. Because of their actions, some people will want to write off every well-meaning, innocent kid who comes to downtown Silver Spring - every kid with a skateboard, every kid of color - as a hood. Because of their actions, well-meaning, innocent adults and families will think twice about coming to downtown Silver Spring.

Oh, this won't happen in Bethesda, they'll say.

Perhaps it doesn't. (Of course, the overprivileged teens of Bethesda can engage in some pretty depraved behaviors themselves, but they have the decency to do it in private.) But it's important to remember that events like this, tragic as they may be, are the exception, not the rule.

Downtown Silver Spring is a safe, vibrant, fun place to be. And it's getting better every week, every month, every year. Don't let a few idiots ruin that. Keep coming back. Keep spending your time and money here. Keep being a presence on these streets, because the more good people there are here, the fewer bad we'll attract.

I say throw the biggest book you can find at these thugs for assaulting an innocent man. The beauty of an urban place like downtown Silver Spring is that a lot of different activities can co-exist here - including skateboarding - but that we make it clear what activities aren't allowed.


Sean P. Carr said...

It would be wrong to equate skateboarders with street thugs. Trash like that ruins public spaces unless they are dealt with -- harshly and publicly.

There is definitely a need and a demand for a skate park in Silver Spring. But we should acknowledge that skateboarding can damage public places and create a climate unfriendly to pedestrians and people who want to enjoy public spaces in a more quiet way.

Let's hope reasonable sharing of space prevails.

Anonymous said...

Its weird, lately I have felt its been better in Silver Spring so this is very sad. I agree, the bigger the book the better.

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan Redd wrote:

Absolutely heartbreaking. An innocent man was seriously injured by some dumb fucking thugs who clearly had nothing better to do than to harass people.

Well, Dan, perhaps they mistook that middle-aged man for me.

Seriously, for the first time in a year or so, I went to the big theaters to see a limited-run flick.

After struggling to figure out how to pay for my parking -- "pay on foot" seems to be mostly designed to create opportunities for muggers and for confusion for new customers --- I drove out Ellsworth from Fenton Street to Georgia Avenue. And even in mid-afternoon on a weekday, the people along the street seemed to me, even from inside my vehicle, to be giving me the hostile evil eye... as in "what the heck is any middle-aged white guy doing down here. Don't they understand they're not allowed?"

I guess the Youth Gang Enforcement Squad decided to pop on in and set that old bastard straight, by banging his face against the ground a few times. You know, until they heard the bones crack.

But seriously, to stop writing pr0n for sociopaths, it's time for Maryland to re-write the laws to allow police to intervene -- as they can in almost every other State -- anytime they see a group in movement. In most States, a cop sees more than 6 people "walking abreast", it's potentially a violation of the Riot Act and they can instantly halt them for questioning, and at the least act of violence by any one member, all are subject to arrest pending charges for Felony Riot.

So long as Maryland has such utterly weak laws on this issue, this sort of thing will endlessly repeat.

Don't blame it on "people from outside of DTSS" because that may be true but that's not how to solve it. Blame it on Maryland laws that prohibit the cops to intervene until someone's sent to the hospital with a minimum of a broken face.

Change the laws... and then the cops can deal with the people. Trust me, they'd love to... but the law does not allow intervention on their part until they hear bones breaking.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

Good post, Dan.

Skateboarders aren't thugs, but can be a pain in the butt as they whiz around and can cause damage to surfaces.

That's a whole lot more minor than sending a man to the hospital.

We need heavy but reasonably discreet police in DTSS for a while to remind the thugs of the community standards for behavior. Play nice, you can stay. Act otherwise, you are arrested.

Unknown said...

"what the heck is any middle-aged white guy doing down here. Don't they understand they're not allowed?"

I call BS. I'm a late middle age white guy, and my late middle age wife and I wander Downtown SS all the time with no grief from anyone. Don't let your paranoia keep you from enjoying what we think is a great place for people of all ages and colors to hang out.

M said...

You truly felt like you were getting the evil eye inside your moving car in broad daylight? I think that says more about you than about your surroundings.

I'm a 30something white woman who shops and eats in DTSS regularly, and I've never gotten that impression. I stay alert like I would in any urban environment, esp after dusk, but I've never felt like people were insinuating that I didn't belong there.

Tanisha Brown said...

This was bound to happen. Civic Center has no budget for security and until something like this happens you will not see more police presence.
I shop in DTSS all the time and feel save. However, I am not stupid and I'm constantly aware of my surroundings. I also don't equate skaters with these thugs. Although the skaters can be a pain in the butt on the street.