Butt Heads and Mall Cops


May 25, 2011 by readlisaread

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with Information Technology, nor to any relevant educational topic.  However, the incident I witnessed today made me think about what it is I do all day….

It has been 4 years since I moved up to Middle School– a place I never thought I’d be, spending my days with teenagers I never thought I would have appreciated.  It turns out that I LOVE my students, and I have naturally absorbed a lot about the teen culture–stuff I never understood, even when I was in the midst of it.

Today’s incident took place at the local mall. I only got involved because I knew all of the boys in the “gang”.  It made me wonder if, some time in the future, I might step in even if I didn’t know the kids personally.

Now, I don’t fancy myself an *expert* on teenagers–not at all. But I do have empathy for them, and I do remember and relate to the feelings and fears they have. I don’t often try to counsel them– I don’t figure that’s my job–but I offer my support, and I do try to understand what they are feeling.

So….I was leaving a store in the Mall with my own kids, and just as I was about to get into the car, I saw a Security Guard (aka Mall Cop) suddenly get into a conflict with some boys from my school.  Piecing together the story later, what happened was this: There were 5 boys altogether, 2 on bikes, 2 on longboards and one on roller blades. It is Mall Policy that there is no boarding, and no “stunt” biking on the property, including the parking lot. The Mall Cop’s story was that he saw the boys go past, called out to them that they were not to board on the mall property, and when they ignored him he told them again, and a third time, and then grabbed one of the boarders by the arm and took his board. (Probably true, and he definitely, and I would say ill-advisedly, grabbed the boy).  When I saw the 2 boarders square off and start in conflict with the Mall Cop, I walked over.  I didn’t say anything, just listened as the Mall Cop berated them for boarding in the lot.  The one boy was mainly concerned about getting his board back, the other was making a stand. The Mall Cop just wanted to move the boys out of area, but he wasn’t doing it in a very smart way… As the boarders were getting more and more agitated, I told them to just relax, that this wasn’t doing their cause any good.  The Mall Cop seemed to have no interest in anything I had to offer, and I heard him say that the boy would get his board back, so I headed to my car, thinking it was probably resolved.

Part two:  As I pulled out and towards the exit of the parking lot, I could see that the boarders were now joined by their biker and rollerblade friends, and the Mall Cop was speaking agitatedly into his Walkie Talkie.  With a sigh, I pulled over, got out of the car, and walked over to the new conflict. The boys weren’t giving any ground, the Mall Cop certainly wasn’t, but was desperately trying to raise his Boss on the walkie talkie.  By the time the boss arrived on the scene, I had talked to the boys about how the guy was just trying to do his job, and that the Mall wanted customers, and if they felt threatened by a bunch of kids racing and wheeling about the parking lot, they might not shop there. Also, it was private property, and if they were asked to leave, they had to respect that.  The boys (who rarely, if ever, disrespect me) said that they would leave, as soon as J. got his board back.  The Mall Cop kept going over the fact that they had not done as he said the first time he said it, and how they had back talked him, and all the ways in which they were misbehaving.  The boys, being a group of 15 year olds, were, of course, not helping their cause by continuing to argue and making the beaky-beaky motion every time the Mall Cop spoke.

Part Three:  (Here is where it gets interesting). Finally, Boss Man gets over to where this huddle has formed.  Arriving just ahead of him is another adult, younger than me, but old enough to have been one of the boy’s uncles or older brothers.  He starts in on the Mall Cop, berating him for grabbing the one boarder by the arm (agreed), and how he shouldn’t be grabbing kids, and how that was a job for the cops, and the whole time he is yammering away (in his Lucky Lager TShirt), I’m speaking quietly to the boys, asking if this guy is one of their relatives–thinking perhaps one of them had texted him to come to the rescue–bu No, they all shook their heads, no one knew him.  I told them that he was not helping their cause, either. When Boss Man arrives, Lucky Lager Dude starts up again, saying he witnessed the whole thing, and Mall Cop was 100% in the wrong. Boss Man speaks for a minute, asking if the boys were warned (yes, they were) and did they do as the Mall Cop asked (well, no, they didn’t, exactly). Here is where I finally spoke up.  I told Boss Man that I hadn’t seen the whole incident, but that I knew all of the boys, I was their teacher, and I could vouch for their character.  I went over that they understood the rules (nodding my head vigorously) and that they hadn’t intentionally broke them (shaking my head vigorously) and that his employee had clearly said he would return the board so that they could leave the property.  Boss Man smiled, and seemed to actually have a fairly calm attitude.  When Lucky Lager Dude realized I wasn’t over there to start a lynch mob to get Mall Cop, he took off.  At this point, I figured my best bet was to let the boys deal with the Boss Man, and hope it resolved peacefully.  I could have stayed, but I knew the boys needed to learn from this (mis)adventure, and, also, I was off-duty, it was none of my business as in this instance, I was simply a Member of the Public. So, I gave the boys one last wave and wink and went back to my own kids and drove home.

Epilogue:  I won’t find out until tomorrow when I see the boys how it all resolved, but I thought about how the Mall Cop handled the situation.  I certainly feel for him, he’s a guy just tying to do his job, and I know the boys were, at best, being mischievous, at worst being down right disrespectful, but what was he thinking was going to happen?  Did he really think grabbing a kid’s skateboard out from under him was going to intimidate a group of young, cocky boys? Is a lame display of machismo while you are wearing a $50 navy suit REALLY going to show the kids who’s boss?

At one point during the incident, I said to the boys that if I saw them all in a gang, did they think that I would be afraid of them? A little snickering and eye-contact avoidance confirmed that No, in fact, they didn’t think I feared them. But, I told them, you might be intimidating to others who don’t know you.  Now, this was Mall Cop’s opportunity to save face and catch the softball I lobbed him….but no.

So often when I am frustrated with my peers, I think how important it is to Communicate. It’s so obvious that a little connection, a little common ground, and a little empathy would go a long way to diffusing situations like these. Should those boys have been racing through the parking lot?  Of course not! Could Mall Cop have found found a better way to make his point, and get the boys to see it….?  Yes, he certainly could have….



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