ColumnistsD Kevin McNeirEditor's ColumnOpinion

EDITOR’S COLUMN: As Police Address Youth Violence at Six Flags America, I Wonder, ‘Who’s in Charge at Home?’

Dozens of unruly, unprincipled and just plain foolish youth decided to interrupt their fun on the rollercoasters, opting instead to engage in a potentially deadly free-for-all last weekend at Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro. Cellphone videos reveal images of youth fighting as well as jumping on and destroying vehicles in the parking lot on the first night of the annual Fright Fest Halloween-themed event.

The melee grew so heated that officials shut the park down early and forced everyone to leave the premises. Prince George’s County police assured the public on Monday that they will meet with Six Flags officials this week to review the park’s security plan and then provide recommendations.

The monthlong event, originally scheduled to continue through Oct. 31, will now close an hour earlier every evening at 9 p.m. with other changes, also geared toward safety, now including the inability to re-enter the park starting at 6 p.m. and no new entry beginning at 7 p.m.

“We are reviewing video and attempting to identify tag numbers and victims, as well as potential suspects,” said county police in a statement. “Once we identify the suspects, then the state’s attorney’s office can determine potential charges.”

Great, great, great, some may say, but their reply is still far from an adequate response and certainly not a solution. And despite the many videos that youth and some victims captured on their phones, no arrests have been made. In time, both the suspects and victims will undoubtedly be identified and with any luck, those youth who participated in the destruction will have to answer for their crimes.

But this isn’t the first time that youth have become enamored with fighting at the park which resulted in serious injuries. In September 2014, several teens were attacked, beaten so badly that their lives were placed in jeopardy. As parents arrived that evening, they saw a throng of teenagers rushing out of the park. One witness, a mother searching for her 15-year-old son and his friends who were there to celebrate his birthday said, “it was panic, mayhem, chaos.”

Again, a spokeswoman said the amusement park had no plans to cancel Fright Fest but added this lukewarm promise: “The safety and security of our guests is always our number one priority. Steps are being taken to increase security by working closely with local law enforcement; increasing the number of dedicated security personnel . . . and continuing to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for anyone violating our published code of conduct.”

So, what happened to those plans that were supposed to guarantee the safety of the park’s team and its patrons? Whatever changes Six Flags made, they clearly were inadequate and have failed to provide the kind of safety and security that we all expect.

Maybe I’m too old or perhaps too cynical but looking back on my youth, I just cannot recall ever witnessing or being involved in such stupidity. And it had nothing to do with the rules and regulations that were then in force at local amusement parks in my hometown of Detroit or those at nearby venues in Ohio or across the river in Canada.

I went to amusement parks with my friends and my cousins to have fun – plain and simple. Further, I knew that if I showed out and caused my family to be ashamed, humiliated, embarrassed – even furious – because of my behavior, I would have to answer to my parents. And my father, a big man with a booming voice, huge hands and little tolerance for foolishness, would set me straight, fast.

In fact, the only thing the police might need to do on my behalf would be to help me secure a ride to the closest hospital. The judges in my case, my parents, would have already completed the investigation, ended the trial and sentenced the suspect – me – to a long period of hard labor and months without any semblance of joy.

Once, when I called myself acting “mannish,” my mother reminded me, “it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and one instance to destroy it.” That’s all it took.

I wonder what the parents of the youth who joined last weekend’s “adventure” are saying to them? Times may change – in fact change remains inevitable. But some things just don’t change. Or at least they shouldn’t.

Children learn by example and as they mature, they form many of their opinions and make most of their decisions based on the lessons they learn at home. Parents remain the ultimate teachers in the lives of children, teenagers and even youth who have recently entered legal adulthood.

But if the “teachers” aren’t doing their job, then youth may simply follow the crowd. In this case, some obviously followed the wrong leaders.

So, I ask, who’s really in charge back at home for the dozens of youth who eagerly participated in last weekend’s violent outbreak? At this point, maybe it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is other adults, park officials, police officers and even community leaders, must hold our young people accountable for their unacceptable behavior.

There are always consequences – some good, others bad – which come with the decisions we make in life and the ways in which we chose to conduct ourselves within society. It’s time for our youth to get a serious dose of “tough love.” It may just save them from engaging in something far more life-altering, even deadly, in the future.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents, the native Detroiter engineered a transformation of The Miami Times resulting in its being named the NNPA’s “Publication of the Year” in 2011 – just one of several dozen industry-related awards he’s earned in his career. He currently serves as senior editor for The Washington Informer. There, in the heart of the U.S. Capitol, he displays a keen insight for developing front-page news as it unfolds within the greater Washington area, capturing the crucial facts and facets of today’s intriguing, political arena. He has degrees from The University of Michigan, Emory University and Princeton Theological Seminary. In 2020, he received First Place for Weekly Newspaper, Commentary & Criticism, Society of Professional Journalists, Washington, D.C. Pro Chapter. Learn more about him at www.dkevinmcneir.com, Facebook – Kevin McNeir, Twitter - @mcneirdk, Linkedin – D. Kevin McNeir or email: mcneirdk@washingtoninformer.com.

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