Two Baltimore County Council members are calling on the owners of White Marsh Mall to require young patrons to be supervised on Friday and Saturday evenings after a fight over the weekend led to the arrest of seven juveniles and two adults.
Council members Cathy Bevins and David Marks met with county police, mall officials and mall security Monday to discuss how to prevent future altercations at the mall. Representatives from The Avenue at White Marsh also attended the meeting.
Bevins, whose district includes White Marsh Mall, said not allowing young people at the mall at certain times might “seem unfair,” but that there are too many people “wandering around looking for trouble.”
Several business owners at the White Marsh Mall agreed, saying an adult supervision requirement on Friday and Saturday nights would quell customers’ fears and be good for business. Others said they worry the mall will overreact to Saturday’s fight and turn young people away from what they consider a safe place to be.
Marty Lastner, senior general manager at GGP, which owns White Marsh Mall, declined to comment on whether White Marsh would institute such a policy.
But he said in a statement that mall officials “are working closely with our partners at the Baltimore County Police Department as we evaluate our protocols to prevent future incidents.”
At Towson Town Center, also owned by GGP, patrons under 18 must have a parent or a supervising adult who is at least 21 with them after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Avenue, owned by Federal Realty, requires patrons under 17 to have a parent or guardian who is at least 21 with them after 9 p.m.
The White Marsh Mall, which is open until 9 most nights, has no similar policy.
Police say that on Saturday night, a large group of young adults and juveniles fled the food court following a fight in a bathroom, and were ordered by mall security to leave. Most members of the group left across the parking lot, including some who crossed Honeygo Boulevard in an attempt to go to The Avenue, but were turned away, police said. A smaller group tried to return to White Marsh Mall.
When an off-duty Baltimore County Police officer working for the mall attempted to escort two 19-year-old men away, one of them swung at him, according to Officer Jennifer Peach, a spokeswoman for the department. While police were trying to arrest the man, identified as Michael Forrester, a group of younger people surrounded the officers and refused to disperse until an officer sprayed pepper spray in the air, police said.
More than 36 officers responded to the scene, police said, and arrested Forrester, 19-year-old Tyrell Rigby and seven juveniles. Forrester and Rigby do not have lawyers listed in online court records.
Muhammad Al Khalid, the owner of G’Lato d’Italia, said shoppers will stop coming to the mall at night unless GGP institutes a curfew policy.
“If they don’t have a curfew, this mall will shut down,” he said, standing behind a pastry case at his shop. “The Avenue [has a policy], so [young people] are coming here. That’s where they’ve dropped the ball. I don’t blame serious shoppers for not coming here.”
Cristal Wells, an assistant manager at clothing store Torrid, said the mall “needs to get stricter like Towson.”
She said the mall has gotten worse since she began shopping there 21 years ago as a teenager.
She said on Friday and Saturday nights, she gets worried about large groups of young people who she said run around the mall, especially in the summer. When she leaves late at night, she calls her husband to come walk her out.
“I worry about our store and people coming in and playing with our merchandise or stealing,” she said. “My 72-year-old grandmother used to shop at the mall, but now she doesn’t feel safe here.”
Two days after the fight broke out, several patrons in the food court said they have always felt safe there.
“You can’t overreact to one situation,” said Bob Wittstadt, a resident of Perry Hall for 30 years who was working on a crossword puzzle. “Kids have been going to the mall forever.”
“I come do what I’ve got to do and I leave,” said Chiamaka Emerenini, adding that she’s been shopping at the mall off and on for 10 years and has “never felt unsafe.”
Requiring younger people to be with their parents at certain hours would prevent young men and women from learning how to be responsible on their own, said Emerenini, calling the proposal “extreme.” The mall is one of the safest places for young people to go, she said, and she worries where young people will congregate if they’re kicked out.
“If you take them out of the mall, they’re going to be out doing what they’re not supposed to do,” Emerenini said.
Marks, who represents much of the area surrounding the mall, said the mall is not a good place for parents to drop their children off unattended.
“There are recreation programs,” he said. “There are other things that kids can do.”
He said the policy has worked in Towson and said White Marsh Mall “needs to get its act together.”
Bevins said police and mall officials view Saturday night’s fight as “an isolated incident.” She said Monday’s conversation with officials largely focused on transportation. She said if the buses left the mall more frequently, there would be fewer young people waiting at nearby stops.
Towson Town Center implemented its parental guidance policy in September 2016. It was criticized by rights groups at the time over concerns about age and race discrimination.
Tony Fugett, the president of the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP, said at the time the policy sounded like “a discriminatory practice on its face” and said he was concerned it would primarily be enforced against young black patrons.
Cleveland L. Horton II, deputy director of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, also said at the time that the policies “could violate the public accommodation rights.”
Neither Fugett nor a spokesman for the state commission had a comment Monday on the proposal for White Marsh Mall.
Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said the Towson Town Center policy has been “very good for our community.”
“People have to remember, nowadays, for malls to make it is very, very challenging,” she said. “We surely don't want an empty mall over there, and we need to do things that are positive, that are keeping people that are spending money [at the mall] going there."
“If anybody’s got a business, like a 7-Eleven down the street or CVS down the street, they don’t want people to drop kids off to just hang out there, so why is a mall any different?” Hafford said.