The Mall is for All (Who Behave)

Shoppers at a mall during holidays

Shoppers at a mall during holidays
Last month one of my Triad Today guests talked about Ridge Care’s wonderful “Hearts and Soles” program, which encourages senior citizens to walk around Hanes Mall in the mornings. The program promotes wellness and social interaction. That same weekend, about a hundred junior citizens were walking around Hanes Mall, but for a different purpose. The teens hung around past the mall’s 6pm curfew, and when they were asked to leave, violence erupted. Police arrived and were in the process of making an arrest when the mob interfered, resulting in more arrests. So there you have the great shopping mall conundrum. By morning, one group gathers to stay fit, and by evening, another group gathers to have a fit.   

The question is, why are young people getting into so much trouble at malls in the first place? I suppose that some scuffles develop organically. For example, Johnny and Jill run into Jerry who used to be with Jill, and all of a sudden, Johnny and Jerry are throwing punches. But, increasingly police say that mall violence is orchestrated, with unruly teens having been summoned via social media to show up and act up. Either way, the problem of teens misbehaving in malls is nothing new. In 2016 alone there were numerous incidents of mall violence, including in Manchester, Connecticut where 300 teens attacked police, and in Aurora, Colorado, where 500 teens faced off against 50 policemen. There were also similar confrontations in Ohio, Connecticut, Texas, and New York. The trend continued in 2017, including at a mall in Cherry Hill New Jersey, where over a thousand teenagers fought with police, and in Sacramento, California, where under-aged teens caused a disturbance in Arden Fair Mall the day after Christmas.

For now, there is some evidence to suggest that earlier curfews and parental escort policies can prevent teen violence. For example, immediately following the Hanes Mall incident, mall manager Charlie Gwinn moved the curfew back on Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm to 5pm, after which time, anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent. Since then, no other disturbances have been reported. Of course no good deed goes unpunished. Gwinn’s counterpart at Arden Fair Mall tried to enforce a similar teen ban, and now he has the ACLU on his case. Speaking on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, attorney Michael Risher said, “the Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits businesses (including shopping centers) from engaging in wholesale discrimination against a specific group, and that includes children.” According to the L.A. Times, Risher also wrote to Arden Fair Mall, warning that they, “must treat people based on their conduct and not because they are part of a category.” Translation, only a relative few minors cause trouble, so why ban them all from a mall because other minors might cause trouble.

Risher has a good point, but a mall must also act in the best interests of all shoppers and merchants. One of Gwinn’s associates told me last week that since the earlier curfew has been in effect at Hanes Mall and other CBL Properties locations, the company has seen a “return of the family shopper,” and “fewer incidents of shoplifting among teens.” I also spoke with a Hanes Mall merchant who said the weekends are much more quiet now. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, ironically, curfews and bans are being enacted at a time when malls are in desperate need of more foot traffic. According to Newsmax, mall vacancies are at an all-time high with no signs of slowing down. It’s a trend that the Wall Street Journal refers to as a “Retail Apocalypse”.

Even so, malls can’t afford to attract the wrong kind of foot traffic. The solution then, seems to be for malls to work with local police to maintain a database of teens who have caused trouble in the past, and then ban those troublemakers altogether, but allow all other young people free access with no curfew. Law-abiding teens should enjoy the same freedoms as law-abiding seniors, no matter what time of day they gather at the mall.


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