When teens began spreading messages online to meet Saturday at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, police took notice.
Officers deployed downtown from across the city as the crowd of youths swelled to more than 400, police say. A tense scene unfolded: some teens fighting — a reporter saw one boy punch another on Calvert Street — and others trying to smash storefront windows. Eventually, officers disbanded the crowds peacefully.
Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young praised the police Tuesday for their restraint.
“They handled it very well. I don’t think they were down there to attack our young people,” Young said. “They were down there for peace and order.”
Officers arrested six people and charged them with disorderly conduct, destruction of property, unarmed robbery and assault. One boy has been arrested so far for partaking in the group beating of a bicyclist, Col. Richard Worley, the chief of patrol, said Tuesday.
“Given the circumstances that were there, I don’t think we could have done a better job,” Worley said.
No one was seriously injured, he said. The hundreds of teens — most between 14 and 18 years old, Worley said — frightened business owners and bystanders. The owner of an Inner Harbor tobacco shop said several boys made off with armfuls of snack foods. He saw boys walking in the middle of the street and halting traffic.
Still, most of the children came and went peacefully, officials say. And those few troublemakers mostly fought each other.
“[It’s] 1% that keep us held hostage,” the mayor said.
Young’s comments followed widespread online criticism directed at Baltimore police union president Sgt. Mike Mancuso, who published a tweet urging officers not to underestimate the youth.
“Don’t fall into the trap that they are only kids,” he wrote. “Some are criminals!”
Mancuso declined an interview Tuesday. In a Facebook post, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland fired back, saying his words encouraged racial profiling and excessive force.
Far more serious injuries came Friday night, when eight to 10 youths jumped a couple walking from Sullivan's Steakhouse, Worley said. The youths attacked the couple around 10:40 p.m. in the 200 block of Light Street, Worley said.
“It was a very vicious attack that came out of nowhere,” he said. “The lady almost lost her eye.”
Police have made no arrests in the attack.
Young said the children are not the only ones to blame.
“It’s a parenting question,” he said. “Are the parents talking to the young people, letting them know that downtown, the Inner Harbor, belongs to you, too, but you need to act with common sense and decency, and not go down and to disrupt, fight and create mayhem?”
Democratic Council President Brandon Scott said city leaders must provide recreation for Baltimore’s youth.
“We must provide opportunities for young people to enjoy themselves safely while simultaneously enforcing the law,” Scott said in a statement.
On Saturday, the teens gathered near McKeldin Square before police pushed them east on Pratt Street. David Habteyes was working as a parking attendant between South and Commerce streets. He saw the crowds come on — middle school-age children running, yelling and horsing around.
“They were fighting,” he said. “The customers were scared like, ‘What’s going on?’”
Police lined up next door to shield Shake Shack, said Gary Morrow, the general manager. His hamburger shop didn’t close.
“The police were fantastic,” Morrow said.
Other businesses locked their doors along Pratt Street. Staff locked down the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel. The general manager locked the doors at nearby Bunzzz Sports Bar & Grill.
“We made the sure the customers would be safe,” said Sunny Yang, the bar’s manager.
He watched through the storefront windows a cat-and-mouse game unfold. Children scattered when the cops arrived; they were back once officers left. Yang said he often sees smaller, unsupervised crowds downtown.
“It’s only a matter of time before something bad happens,” Yang said. “We just pray every weekend it doesn't.”
Baltimore officials, however, aren’t alone in trying to rein in rowdy teens. Officials at White Marsh Mall announced in March a weekend ban of unaccompanied youth after 5 p.m. That curfew came after a food court fight last August drew dozens of police officers. Nine people were arrested. Towson Town Center has a curfew, too.
Several boys rushed into Surendra Chaddha’s tobacco shop in the Harborplace mall Saturday evening, making off with the boxes of snacks. He has run the tobacco shop since 2011 and said he’s never before seen such unruly crowds.
On the Inner Harbor promenade, Duke Robinson was working at the Philly Pretzel Factory when the children ran toward him. Robinson hurried to protect his young daughter in her stroller. He worried someone would jump the counter and land on the girl.
“It was like a stampede,” he said.
The 21-year-old grew up in East Baltimore around Harford Road and knows what it’s like to have nowhere to go on Saturday night — not even a basketball court to shoot hoops. Robinson said city leaders have left the youth with nothing. He finds no fault with the teens.
“I was doing the same thing,” he said. “Who’s fault is it, really?”