Roller skating, crafting and silent discos will pop up all over the Sacramento region Friday night to encourage teens to seek organized activities instead of violence.
The city and a coalition of neighborhood leaders announced the events at a press conference Thursday, just days after law enforcement broke up two separate fights among teens at Arden Fair mall. Police told The Sacramento Bee that a few hundred youth were fighting both inside and outside the building. In a statement on social media, the mall called it a “coordinated act of violence.”
Pastors and youth mentors from Oak Park, Meadowview, Florin and other Sacramento neighborhoods say the violence is tied to a lack of safe and healthy activities for kids. They noted that boredom peaks during holiday breaks.
“Our kids are sending us a message,” said Chet Hewitt, president of the Sierra Health Foundation, which is providing financial support for the pop-up events. “If the city doesn’t offer them any alternative and anything else to do, they will find something to do of their own accord, and it might not always be what’s best for them or what’s best for our community.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg agreed that more investment is needed for kids who don’t regularly access community programs, but noted that teens should also be held accountable for their actions.
“While the vast majority of young people are doing the right thing, we must not make excuses for bad and/or illegal behavior,” he said Thursday. “Let us be honest and acknowledge that we have so much more work to do together.”
On Sunday Steinberg tweeted it may be necessary to temporarily require minors to be accompanied by a "parent or guardian" when visiting the mall.
In light of the unacceptable events of the past few days, it may be necessary to at least temporarily require that people under 18 be accompanied by a parent or guardian when visiting @ArdenFair. @SacPolice #ArdenFair https://t.co/WZdEQVITJN— Darrell Steinberg (@Mayor_Steinberg) December 30, 2018
Community activist Berry Accius said media accounts about the mall fights have cast the youth he works with in an unfair light.
“We cannot criminalize our young people, we cannot arrest our way out of this issue,” he said. “The narrative that we put out there is very important. It creates the idea that all these young people are just thugs, that all these young people are just rowdy animals running around. And what happens later?”
He said employment opportunities for underserved youth are also a crucial piece of the puzzle. A recent report presented by the Sierra Health Foundation showed 42 percent of Sacramento’s black residents without a high school diploma are unemployed, compared to just a quarter of white residents with the same background. The city is already working with the Black Child Legacy Campaign to place more teens in jobs.
Joshua Hamilton, a Natomas 13 year old who attended the press conference, said events like the Friday night pop-ups give him a rare chance to connect with his community.
“Maybe because we don’t get the attention at home, or we don’t get the attention at school, we might end up doing something we’re not really supposed to be doing,” he said. “We want that attention.”
He said he ultimately hopes to play basketball, and then take on a career helping youth.
Find a list of free activities planned for Friday night here.