Youths push for nonviolence
Concert organizers to meet with residents while promoting their message online and in the community
A week after a nonviolence concert in downtown Silver Spring ended in fighting and sparked residents' concerns about the security and safety downtown, the youth organizers of the event say they are even more dedicated to stopping teen violence.
Youths connected to the concert will spread the nonviolence message through online groups, poster campaigns and community outreach and also hope meet with residents that felt threatened by last week's violence.
"The fight is just a signal that says we need to improve what we did," said Juan Hinojosa, a Silver Spring International Middle School student and member of Mixed Unity, a youth group that planned the concert.
About 7,000 people gathered March 7 on Ellsworth Drive for a "Stop the Violence" concert organized by Mixed Unity, which formed after the shooting death of Montgomery Blair High School freshman Tai Lam on Nov. 1, 2008.
As a go-go band was playing the last performance of the night, a fight broke out and spread away from the stage to the surrounding blocks in downtown Silver Spring before about 45 officers joined the roughly 30 officers and private security patrolling the event to help quell the violence, Montgomery County police said last week. Thirty-five were arrested or cited for offenses including assault and disorderly conduct. Of the 35, 18 were adults and 17 juveniles, said Lucille Baur, a police spokeswoman.
Initial reports from police indicated only 16 arrests were made.
Third District Lt. Paul Liquorie said in a phone interview Tuesday that extra officers were stationed downtown because of the warm weather and the event, but had police "realized the draw that this event and the last band was going to have we would have upped staff even more."
In the future, police will work more closely with event planners to determine the size of the crowds and adjust security accordingly, Liquorie said.
The concert was planned largely by a group of about 30 teenagers who met for months to organize and promote the concert, which was intended to honor Lam and limit feelings of violence among their peers. Youth organizers said the fighting is an example of the very problems the concert was hoping to address.
"We didn't expect for that to happen, but because it happened it helped everyone to see the problem we are dealing with," said Peter Balogun, a spiritual counselor with Mixed Unity.
Mixed Unity has met to talk about the concert and plan future events, which they said will not be on the scale of the March 7 concert.
A Facebook group called "Please Stop the Violence: DC Metro Area" was started March 9 by Montgomery Blair High School students including Mixed Unity members and already has more than 1,400 members. The group was given 3,000 bracelets by Montgomery County Police and will sell them for $1 each to benefit Lam's family.
Two groups that include downtown officials, nonprofit officials, security and police were established to discuss security issues and planning issues for future events on Ellsworth Drive, said Downtown Silver Spring manager Jennifer Nettles of The Peterson Cos., the management company that helped sponsor the event.
While there may not be another youth event of that size at City Plaza, Nettles said youth will continue to be involved in future events as planners or employees.
The concert sparked discussion on neighborhood listservs, with some residents saying the fighting perpetuated a trend of unruly teens that downtown security fails to control.
Comments on the Seven Oaks and Evanswood Citizen Association listserv ranged from admiration for the youth who planned the concert to some suggesting a 10 p.m. curfew for youth downtown. Others claim they won't visit the downtown again.
"The thing people object to is the thugs, the guys with bad attitudes," said Seven Oaks-Evanswood resident Brent Gilroy of the nighttime scene along Ellsworth Drive. "You sit down to have a nice dinner and you hear [expletives]."
Gilroy said in a phone interview Monday that Downtown Silver Spring management needs to adopt a "zero tolerance policy for vile behavior and thuggery." Nettles said crime and fighting among teens downtown has declined in recent years.
Only extreme and excessive cursing or yelling can result in a disorderly conduct charge, Liquorie said, but failure to control behavior and quality-of-life issues can result in bigger problems.
"If someone acts disorderly and someone feeds off that, it spreads to another group and it can kind of feed on itself," Liquorie said. Liquorie added that The Peterson Cos. and police are considering programs that would reward teens with coupons for behaving positively downtown.
Another resident, John Haslinger, said in a phone interview Monday that the behavior downtown is "not that bad" and by avoiding Ellsworth Drive, his neighbors would deprive youth of positive role models and give businesses incentive to cater to teens even more.
"Our presence, and a presence in great numbers, makes those practicing inappropriate loudness or profanity less able to do it," Haslinger said. "If they are all in their own element, they can do that."
Mark Gabriele, president of SOECA, said his neighborhood will meet with The Peterson Cos. and county police April 2 to discuss the concert and how to improve the environment downtown.
But if residents truly want to address the problem, they should meet with the teens themselves, said Howa Toure a Montgomery College sophomore in Mixed Unity who hopes her group will be welcomed to neighborhood meetings.
"Instead of talking about the problem," Toure said, "come out and solve the problem."