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August 12, 2009

Jerry's kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

Walking among the young, fly and flashy who filled the streets to attend the annual “Russ Bus Tour” last Thursday, an older man who recognized me commented that the teenage takeover was making downtown Louisville uglier than usual.

“Who you calling ugly muthafucker,” screamed a teenage girl standing just behind me. Dressed more appropriately for BET’s video program “106th & Park” than a back-to-school celebration, the teenagers that crowded downtown last week did have an arrogant swagger. Even though their bad attitudes were as palpable as their clothes were loud, a riot did not occur, despite screaming headlines from a shameless local press high on imagination.

Among the 5,000 or so students who reportedly attended the back-to-school event hosted by nationally syndicated radio host Russ Parr, only a dozen or so caused any real trouble. According to Metro Police, 12 attendees were arrested, and yet the event prompted outrageous storylines that conjured up images of trash cans being flung through windows and burning police cars.

“They tried to highlight less than a tenth of a percent of kids that were there, but 99.9 percent had a great time,” Parr tells LEO Weekly. “I know the code words and buzzwords used by the media. And they were just blown way out of proportion and were out of line.”

Infuriated by the local coverage, the Chicago radio host says he still wants to return next year with changes to the concert’s admission policies. Instead of having an open-door policy, Parr suggests students might be required to bring a school ID, report card and a chaperone for a sizeable group.

Metro government officials have mixed feelings about whether the back-to-school event that provides free school supplies to kids should be abandoned. Police Chief Robert White’s comments were reasonably exacerbated by the fact that wayward street toughs could cause such a headache, but he stopped short of saying the police department wanted no more of the bus tour.

Still wavering about announcing his mayoral candidacy, Metro Council President David Tandy, D-4, who sponsored the event, has tried to stand firm against the media blitz. He has repeatedly said that while the handful of incidents was unfortunate, a few bad actors shouldn’t spoil it for the well-behaved majority.

The council president tells LEO he wants to sit down with the chief and Parr to review any necessary changes to ensure the public’s safety. Everyone agrees a security briefing is in order before Parr’s bus returns. If Tandy is a mayoral candidate by this time next year, you can expect he will probably frisk every knucklehead before he fastens his name to the Russ Bus Tour again.

Other council members, however, are stepping up with more punitive suggestions that might reflect the public’s current sentiment.

In response to the round of fistfights that erupted, Councilwoman Judy Green, D-1, wants to shut the free concert down before it becomes dangerous.

“Everybody says we don’t do enough for the youth and the youth don’t have anything to do,” she says. “But we provide these things and it’s something that has to be looked at because a lot of our kids just don’t know how to act at these functions.”

The councilwoman’s tough-love message has a following in west Louisville despite what armchair Negrologists say. Whether it’s spruced-up cars or teenagers clad in hip-hop clothes, scrapping an event entirely to correct a nuisance dressed in black skin seems to be the best option many black leaders are offering.

According to community activists who deal directly with the young people being maligned as riotous, police and politicos could learn from the incident.

It had been buzzing in the streets for days that the concert was going to attract neighborhood cliques that had longstanding rivalries, says Eddie Woods, director of the L.I.F.E. Institute, an organization that works with at-risk youth. But, he says, city leaders, parents and others did little to prevent any altercations.

They should have contacted the street toughs who have influence over others and dispatched volunteer ambassadors from the community who can mix and mingle with the crowd to quell any brewing problems. It’s a tactic the L.I.F.E. Institute employed during the annual Dirt Bowl basketball tournament, which went smoothly in Shawnee Park this year.

“We’re always trying to think of ways to have a safer community,” says Woods. “If we all sit down and think only about the safety issue, we can come up with a plan that will work from the inside and out. We just have to be more proactive.”