By Mansfield Frazier
The news that the Coventry street fair, which was scheduled for Sunday, July 21, was cancelled by the City of Cleveland Heights due to “chatter on social media that talked of violence,” should be disturbing to all of us — this being the second year in a row the event has been cancelled.
In 2011, a group of unruly teens (read: black) disrupted the fair by allegedly marauding through the streets causing havoc and angering residents (read: white) who have been regularly attending the event since the 1970s. Now it could be that this year’s “threat” is being overblown by city officials … being used to make a few cheap political/racial points by demonizing young black males. I sincerely hope that’s not the case.
But it’s more likely Cleveland Heights officials felt they were in a no-win situation: On the one hand, if they used enough force to control acting out youth, they might be accused of being racist; and on the other hand, if they didn’t use enough force someone could be hurt, lawsuits could ensue, and — worst of all — law enforcement would be portrayed as being impotent. A quick risk/benefits analysis caused officials to cancel the event — but, in the long term, for a myriad of reasons, it’s the wrong decision.
By doing so we hasten the day when society devolves into the nightmare depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange. The fictional work — which is too rapidly becoming non-fiction — depicts a world where gangs of roving young thugs rule the streets in cities in England and adults are fearful of venturing outside. While we’re nowhere near the point the film portrays just yet, when we cancel public events out of fear of violent youth, we’re beginning to slide down that slippery slope. As a society we simply cannot allow youth to determine what adults do or don’t do in public places. That’s sheer folly … nay, actually insanity.
As cities around the country seek legitimate answers to this growing national problem, Cleveland Heights could become a leader in terms of developing workable solutions. All of the elements (in terms of demographics, locale, and an educated, intelligent citizenry) are already in place to accomplish such a task.
If young people are using social media devices (which are regulated by the FCC) to make plans to meet up and do violence, that’s clearly against federal laws and should be treated as such. Local authorities should contact federal authorities (I’m dead serious here) and work with the FBI to put a stop to such activity, and it wouldn’t be all that difficult to do.
Is security on our streets and in our neighborhoods no less important than national security that keeps us safe from those who would harm from abroad? If someone uses social media to plan terrorist attacks on American soil the FBI is on them like a cheap suit. Should threats of violence from teenagers within our country be treated all that much differently? I guarantee you there’s already a federal law on the books to cover this type of activity … and the feds certainly don’t lack for creativity when tailoring existing laws to fit any situation they are faced with — in fact, they’re masters at it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that these young people be slapped with life-altering felonies, or even be arrested or charged … at least not the first time. But when one or more of the youths crosses the line from posting comments about what they heard was going to happen at an event, and starts bragging about what criminal activities they are going to participate in at an event (which some of them have without a doubt already done), there has to be consequences.
While urban youth are not fearful of local law enforcement, they’re as afraid of the FBI as a hog is of a slaughtering knife. One mention of the FBI causes these supposedly tough little dudes to quake in the Nikes or Timberlands … or whatever footwear is fashionable for the nonce.
When two FBI agents show up on their doorstep, explain why they are there, and confiscate the devices they used to make the threats, word will spread like wildfire among their peers. All it would take is a visit to two or three homes. Trust this: No teenager wants to risk having his or her communications devices taken away. And a warning should be given that if they acquire another device and again engage in “domestic terrorist activities” (they should make it sound like real serious shit, because, when you think of it, it potentially is), they’re going to face charges.
And if these youths’ parents want to debate the confiscation, let them run out and hire a civil rights attorney and see how far they get with that one.
But preventing youth from acting out (which no sane adult should have a problem with, as long as it’s done evenhandedly and without unnecessary violence on the part of police), no matter their race, is only part of the solution. The other, more important, part has to do with why the youth are acting out in this violent manner in the first place. More on that subject next week.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.