Santa Popo Comes to the Northside
Nobody got cut, nobody got shot and nobody got dead at the Christmas Eve movie theater melee.
'Twas the night before Christmas,
And Glocks were on butts,
The knives were in jeans,
And kids texted, "WAZZUP?"
"SCRAP," someone said.
Damn straight, U SUKR!
The cops said the kids who were fighting around the Regal River City Marketplace Stadium 14 theater on Christmas Eve weren't using social media. I don't believe that. New scrappers kept arriving though nobody sent up a flare. When it comes to the Internet, cops are behind the times — circa when Facebook was cool.
The kids know that cops, parents, friends and frenemies can search their phones. Maybe they used apps like SnapChat that let texts pop up on friends' phones and then vanish into the ether seconds later. Cops can retrieve them from the smartphone's flash chip, but that requires a data extractor and a warrant.
Perhaps that's how messages similar to the doggerel at the top of this column flashed across screens in Jacksonville's raggedy Northside, and why 600 teenagers who did not have Christmas Eve dinners to attend showed up ready to rumble. According to the arrest and incident reports I read, and the video I saw, the mob attempted to flash-rush the building but bounced off the locked doors.
Inside the theater itself, off-duty Officer B.R. Smith called it in, and within minutes, 60 cops came swarming. In the parking lot, the popo were on the receiving end of some "fuck-you-cracker" taunts, while girls pulled hair and clawed at boobs and faces and the boys jumped on the roofs and kicked in the body metal of those wretched Impalas local cops use as cruisers.
The police deployed pepper spray to melt hearts and minds, moved the mob away from the theater, separated out the little kids so they wouldn't get hammered, organized a parent pick-up zone for non-combatants and made five arrests — three juveniles and two teenagers over 18. Laurie-Ellen Smith, a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office flack, was dispatched to explain things to parents and the media. The busted five were arraigned on Christmas Day, when their felonies were dropped to misdemeanors and they were diverted into probation and supervision, adjudication withheld.
To realize how gratifying, appropriate and astonishing this is, you have to ponder what didn't happen:
There are always guns, knives and knucks in a crowd that big. Because the police acted quickly, in overwhelming numbers, the weapons stayed hidden. (None of the arrested adults had guns on them. The juveniles' records were sealed.) The cops took some punches and pushes but didn't crack bones with batons or put bullets through brains, which they could have done lawfully.
They charged the kids with "affray" and "fighting," which are misdemeanors, not assault and battery, which are felonies. They didn't book them on battery on a law enforcement officer or lying to police, which are the handy-dandy add-on charges police too often use to boost petty offenses into felonies.
They didn't run any IDs on hundreds of kids, which would've let them bust everyone with an outstanding warrant, detainer or probation violation. They didn't run the tags of the parents' vehicles and arrest every clueless gork with a suspended license. Legally, they could have done all of that and more.
Nor did the police frisk all the kids for the cigarettes, alcohol and dope some of them were no doubt carrying. They didn't search all the cars in the parking lot. They even avoided those tempting cop stand-bys: "Hey, you don't have any guns or narcotics in your car, do you? You don't mind if I look around?"
They didn't use dirty cop tricks, like crowding or muttering racial epithets, to make kids act out and justify more arrests. Afterward, most teenagers returned, if not to happy homes, at least to someplace better than that juvenile offender rat cage on East Eighth. Maybe the next time they catch a "SCRAP" and an "RUUP4IT?" on their snazzy phones, they'll just say no.
It's no great secret that these mobs of kids exist in large part because of a collapse of a nurturing family life, and that the cops are the only effective daddies many of these children have. Nonetheless, last Christmas Eve, by the grace of God and good police training, the daddies knew best. Some kids got a legal spanking, but nobody got cut, nobody got shot and nobody got dead. That's the best Christmas present ever,
In Crime City.