While helping around The Riverwalk stage area during last Saturday night’s free after-Market Street concert, I had to haul some musical equipment for entertainer Mark ‘Muleman’ Massey and his band. The band had parked near the Rubens parking lot area and we had to use 4-wheelers to haul their equipment up to the Riverwalk stage. Right before the concert was to begin at 5 p.m., around a couple hundred youth had gathered in the area between the stage and Rubens parking area along the Riverwalk. As a few volunteers and myself made our way on the 4-wheelers down the Riverwalk and across the Moore’s Creek bridge, many of the youth were trying to be confrontational…by making comments and deliberately slowing down and getting in the way of the vehicles. A couple of Columbus Police officers were near the bridge and a few youth could be heard saying, “I’m not scared of the police…I’ll cuss them out too.”
Massey’s drummer and bass player are Dexter and Garry Burnside, brothers, and sons of another famous bluesman, RL Burnside. The two live and have grown up near Memphis, where they’ve been playing bars and events since they first started out in the music biz. Dexter and Garry were riding along with us on the 4-wheelers. After hearing some of the confrontational comments from many of the youth, Gary tapped his brother on the shoulder and said, “hey, man…I know these are our people (he was refering to them being black kids), but have you ever seen anything like this?” Part of his comment to his brother was likely fueled by the fact that we had just passed a young couple who were standing on the edge of the Riverwalk near the Moore’s Creek bridge. The teen boy and girl were ‘dry-humping’ in full view of everyone around, including a couple of nearby Columbus Police officers (though I couldn’t say for sure that they saw it…I would want to believe that they certainly would have put a stop to that. RW). In fact, as we drove by, the couple looked us straight in the eye and continued to ‘dry-hump’. We ended up making 3 trips back and forth along that part of the Riverwalk hauling equipment. Each time we were met with confrontational comments.
The majority of the couple of hundred kids that evening were between 12 to 17, by my estimate (and in this particular case, were all black kids…though there has been confrontations with white kids by some at other locations in Columbus. RW). Sunday, I made a comment about the issue on the Columbus, Ms. Facebook Watch page. In the comment, I used the term ‘thugs’ in describing the youth (because, to me, that’s how they were acting. RW). One particular poster took offense to my term and left comments (which she later deleted on her own. RW). The post has since gone viral (in a local sense of the word) and garnered much attention. So much so, that Lynn Sanders Nordquist, one of the page’s founders, suggested that concerned citizens attend the next Columbus City Council meeting to address the issue. Nordquist called Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong and was placed on the Citizens Input Agenda at the next council meeting, which will be Tuesday, May 15th at 5 p.m. at the Municipal Complex.
Nordquist is asking that as many citizens as possible attend the meeting to address the concerns of Columbus youth (black and white) hanging out near the Riverwalk, Downtown, Propst Park, K-Mart parking lot…anywhere where citizens go and are subjected to comments or confrontational actions. And let it be pointed out that these hot spots where kids gather and behave confrontational involve both black and white youth. The issue is certainly not confined to just one race.
Granted…we can analyze what causes the problem – lack of organized activities for youth, lack of parental involvement and control, lack of discipline, lack of simple morality in general – but often that can become an excuse for such behavior. We certainly need to address all of those concerns, but we need to address this issue, head-on, with an intelligent discussion of the facts at hand (from both black and white concerned citizens). As Scott Colom told me, “It’s not a racial issue…it’s a cultural issue.” Colom, who writes a weekly article in the Commercial Dispatch and recently served as a Lowndes County Justice Court Judge, intends to be at the meeting to take part in the discussion. Nadia Dale, a CVB board member, hopes to be there as well. Dale and others have organized a Wake Up Project that will take place this weekend at MUW. The project is to raise awareness and hopefully change the negative attitudes and perceptions of our youth.
Many of these youth (that were present at the Riverwalk Saturday evening) could likely be part of local gangs. Numerous fights broke out along the Riverwalk area, parts of downtown etc. after the festival and concert were over with. The problem is that many of those people who attended the festival and the concert saw those fights and were concerned with safety issues. It needs to be noted that the issue at hand is not a Market Street Festival issue…it’s a city issue that can happen on any given weekend or weekday at locations throughout the city…and at anytime. It will eventually (and probably already has) affect any outside public event at The Riverwalk, Propst Park, or anywhere else these events take place. Gunshots were fired near the park a couple of weeks ago, an incident that has been well-publicized in The Packet and other publications.
And let’s not minimize or sugarcoat this issue, either. We’re not talking about a bunch of youth that are just unruly, here. Though, some of them are only that, many of these youth are carrying weapons…knives, guns, etc. This is not overkill or made-up drama…the fear here is that someone totally innocent, will get caught-up in the middle of one of these gang wars, and be seriously injured…or even killed.
During discussion of the issue on the Facebook Watch page, one member said her 16 year-old son was reading the comments. He said he knew not to make “eye-contact” with the gang members. It reminded me of one of my trips up the Riverwalk while on the 4-wheeler. I made eye contact with a (I’m assuming. RW) gang member. He said, “I don’t play”, to which I replied, “I don’t either.” (I’ve since been told I was crazy for even saying anything. But I feel if we show fear to these kids, it’ll just make matters worse. I grew up around men that feared no human. People like ‘Oop’ Swoope, Robert Smith, ‘Tuffy’ Bourland and Willie Mack Coleman, among many others. You don’t show fear to anyone…you just can’t. RW)
The issue needs to be dealt with…and dealt with now, especially if Columbus wants to survive as a growing, thriving community where decent people, black, white and of any nationality, want to live, work and send their children to school. Racial division can’t be allowed to destroy this town any more than cultural division. The naysayers and those who promote that division need to stay out of it…and let those concerned try to deal with this issue. It’s imperative for our very existence.
In a related matter…Longtime Columbus musician Keith Brown (Keith & Margie) made a post on his Facebook page this week with a heartfelt plea of his own about the youth taking part in ghetto fight videos being posted on Youtube and other such places. And his thoughts on our youth in general. Here is what Keith had to say:
KEITH: This is MY opinion ok! Yours may be different, but right now Im speaking for MYSELF!!! I dont like these “ghetto fight ” videos. I dont watch em’ and I think they are a danger to our culture. This is sending out a negative image to our already troubled youth. There’s nothing cute about it. Lord knows I wish we could turn our youth around. It really troubles me when I hear about a shooting…or a big fight somewhere. If I thought for one moment that I could, reach just one, maybe that one could reach another. I tell you we have to start setting examples for the youth. And when they get all up in your face with “you cant tell me nothin’, tell them thats WRONG too. Young people gotta learn once again to respect the elders. Some of these people raised anywhere from 5 to 15 kids in shotgun houses, never had to bail one out, never had to bury one, never had welfare, (cause the older kids had to work too). We can do this y’all. We just gotta stop making excuses for them. As a community we’re responsible for our own. Im very concerned about this and I hope some of you are too. And to any young person out there that may read this, I want you to do this for me……………..Find and older relative, or family friend, take some time and just sit down and talk to them, Young men find a older man who was once a soldier sit down and talk to him. Girls find a lady in your community, whose a retired nurse or school teacher. Ask questions, and above all ………Listen, and learn. I love y’all……… Keith Brown.
Well said, Keith.
Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com0