Baltimore County Council members are making a public push to persuade the owners of White Marsh Mall to enact a youth curfew.
A resolution calling for a policy on youths comes after council members lobbied mall owners to take measures curtailing late-night gatherings of young people after a fight in early August led to the arrest of nine teenagers.
The aftermath of that incident led to calls from some council members to re-evaluate late-night bus service at the suburban mall — a reaction critics including Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young likened to racism.
The resolution under consideration asks owners of the mall to improve security and require minors to be accompanied by adults after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Lindsay Kahn, a spokeswoman with the mall’s parent company, Chicago-based Brookfield Properties, formerly General Growth Properties, said in a statement that mall officials “currently do not have plans to implement a formal parental guidance required program at White Marsh Mall.”
She said the mall works with county police, and that providing a safe environment “is our highest priority.”
Council resolutions are not be legally binding, but Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat who is the primary sponsor of the measure, said it’s designed to pressure mall management to implement a youth policy.
“I want that mall to be successful. I’m doing this to make them successful,” Bevins said. “They are a huge employment hub for us in retail. I want people to want to go to White Marsh to work and shop. I want it to be a positive experience.”
The resolution is co-sponsored by council members David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, and Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican. It was introduced Monday.
“We are speaking for constituents who want White Marsh Mall to succeed and for employees who want safer conditions where they work,” Marks said.
The “mandatory parental guidance policy” the resolution advocates for would mirror a policy already in place at Towson Town Center, another Brookfield mall. Towson’s policy requires minors to be with an adult or guardian age 21 or older on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Avenue at White Marsh, a shopping and entertainment area located next to the White Marsh Mall that Brookfield does not own, requires visitors younger than 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian older than 21 after 9 p.m. each night.
The discussion of youth curfews at malls can be controversial, and in the past also prompted questions about age and race discrimination.
Tony Fugett, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP, said his group was concerned when Towson Town Center began its youth policy two years ago. NAACP members did “spot checks” of the Towson mall to see whether security was implementing the policy evenly among young people of different races. Fugett said they found no problems at Towson, but would do the same type of checks if White Marsh adopts a similar policy.
The Towson mall’s policy was put into place in 2016 following complaints from elected officials and shoppers. Months earlier, a group of young people clashed with police, with some throwing rocks at officers. A 16-year-old girl was charged as a juvenile with second-degree assault on a police officer.
At White Marsh, complaints about young people in the mall escalated following the early August fight that began in a food court bathroom. After young people allegedly involved were ordered out of the mall, some attempted to return and one tried to punch an off-duty officer, according to police.
The officer and security guards used pepper spray to disperse the crowd and some ran off, while others continued to cause disturbances, police said. Some tried to go across the street to The Avenue at White Marsh, but were ordered to leave under that center’s youth policy.
Nine people were arrested on charges ranging from trespassing to second-degree assault. Two 19-year-olds were charged as adults.
Fugett said issues related to bus service in the aftermath of the White Marsh fight were of greater concern than a potential curfew.
After the arrests, Bevins and Marks had suggested revisiting bus schedules; Bevins said that even after the fight was broken up, dozens of young people were left hanging around with no place to go.
She suggested more frequent bus service would help, but got more attention for proposing an evaluation of whether late-night bus service was needed at the mall. Young said reducing bus service would be “like racism,” and Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler said it was “outrageous” to consider limiting service from the city to the county.
“It’s 2018. Not 1950,” Mohler said at the time.
The tension was heightened when a racist flyer circulated online depicted bus riders as apes and called for shutting down the “ghetto bus line.”
Bevins said the controversy made it difficult to have a conversation about the transit needs of mall workers and customers. “They totally shut it down,” she said.
Fugett said the NAACP remains opposed to any reduction in service.
“People have to get to work, that doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The council members behind the current resolution say they aren’t suggesting reopening the discussion of bus service at this time, preferring instead to prod the mall to make its own changes.
White Marsh Mall’s website states that shoppers younger than 18 are “encouraged to be accompanied by an adult age 21 or older.” Marks said he and Bevins have repeatedly encouraged White Marsh to adopt a more stringent policy.
“Many people are frustrated that the policy has not advanced,” Marks said. “It is something the mall could to right now to improve peace of mind for both employees and patrons at the mall.”
Crandell said it would be in the mall’s best interest to enact a youth policy and “make a nice environment” for customers.
“I’ve had constituents tell me they simply won’t go there any more, especially on a weekend night,” Crandell said.
Council members are scheduled to discuss the proposed resolution during a work session on Oct. 30 and could vote Nov. 5.