It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night at Mayfair mall. A stroller-pushing family slows as it approaches a tangle of teenagers crowding the second-floor corridor. Mom, gripping the handles, waits and then squeezes past the crowd. Teen pairs, arms around each other, outnumber twentysomething couples on dates. At the teen-oriented store Gadzooks, Kelly Osbourne’s “Shut […]
It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night at Mayfair mall. A stroller-pushing family slows as it approaches a tangle of teenagers crowding the second-floor corridor. Mom, gripping the handles, waits and then squeezes past the crowd. Teen pairs, arms around each other, outnumber twentysomething couples on dates.
At the teen-oriented store Gadzooks, Kelly Osbourne’s “Shut Up” lyrics screech and pound through the speakers: “Don’t want to be polite.It’s messed up,How you always think you’re right. There’s nothing you can say,That’s gonna change the way I am.Shut up!”
A group of African-American teen girls having dinner in the food court is laughing loudly, wildly gesticulating and watching boys go by. In between their laughter, one girl yells out “motherf—er” repeatedly until a security guard shakes his head as he passes by. “Come on, don’t do that,” he says. The girls roll their eyes. But their language is not unlike that used by many of the teens sauntering through.
On the edge of the seating area of the mall’s expansive food court, three adolescent girls of varying races and skin tones sit at a table adjacent to the open walkway. They blurt out unintelligible noises. Scream. Talk over each other. Their intermittent bursts of high-pitched laughter are channeled at passersby. One girl thinks her friend is getting too wild, but she’s answered with, “Do you think you’d have any fun if I was sitting alone over there?”
Down another corridor of teen stores, the atmosphere is reminiscent of a high school hallway. Groups of guys and groups of girls gather in tight circles. They eye each other. They talk loudly enough to be heard by neighboring groups when they want to be or in hushed tones just below audibility, sparking even more curiosity from those standing nearby. Boys sound out their version of catcalls to passing girls with bare stomachs, tight pants and cleavage-baring V-neck T-shirts bearing titles like Princess, Bitch and Hottie. Inside Hot Topic, a girl wrestles playfully with a boy. “Time, place and what position?” she shouts.
In the north corridor near the 18-screen movie theater, three blue-uniformed police officers gather, their arms folded over the silver railing, their eyes scanning in every direction. Four 16-year-old boys lean over, too. Adam is white. David and Phillip are black. Jose is Latino. They are decked out in their finest Friday night mall-walking gear: leather jackets, large-lensed frameless tinted fashion glasses, caps, puffy black quilted down winter coats with big hoods. Gold chains hang from their necks.
They spot a group of girls who teasingly wave to them and disappear from view. The boys scurry past the mall security guard and down the escalator. But when they reach the bottom, the girls are nowhere to be found. The boys turn circles in the center court of the mall, which splits off in four directions. “We’ve been duped,” one of them says and shrugs. They walk west, heads turning and eyes scanning in every direction. They finally shake their heads and ride to the second-floor level to the food court, where they sit waiting for one of their fathers to pick them up.
They tell me they’re not here to cause trouble, but their behavior is often misconstrued. “You’ve got Tosa West [High School] around here… all white kids… they get scared and think we’re causing trouble and they run and tell security,” says Adam, himself white. The people who say teens are a problem, “they’re a–holes,” he says.
“If one teen fights, they think it is all of us,” says David. “If they see an African American in a fight, they think all African Americans are bad.”
“But it’s… anybody in hip-hop-era clothing [they think are trouble],” says Jose.
“It’s a hangout,” says David. “It’s a place people can come and be kickin’ it. But a few people spoil it by fighting or whatever.”
Mayfair is no longer the sea of mostly white, middle-class, middle-aged faces it once was. It’s become a crossroads of ethnic and racial groups and economic and social classes like none other in Milwaukee. It beckons soccer moms and Goths, business types and hip-hoppers, grandmas and preppies. SUVs, dark-windowed hot rods and modest compact cars share the 6,552 spaces in the sprawling parking lot surrounding the more than one million-square-foot mall. As parents in minivans drop off loads of kids at the mall’s central entrance, Milwaukee County buses do the same outside Marshall Field’s.
Fancy gadgets can go for $1,000 at The Sharper Image; plastic earrings at Claire’s Boutique for two bucks. National chain stores like Coldwater Creek and J. Jill, whose only Wisconsin location is at Mayfair, stock expensive, conservative women’s fashions, while the likes of Champs and Wet Seal carry trendy urban styles like those seen in music videos. Under one roof, The Lang Store’s serene country motifs meet Hot Topic’s “Love Bites Big Time” baby doll T-shirts.
But this diversity didn’t become the subject of news stories until last fall when police and mall security struggled to control crowds of mostly African-American teens coming and going from the popular sold-out comedy Barbershop. Immediately, radio talk show hosts and newspaper columnists sounded a battle cry over race and unruly behavior at the mall.
Had “dysfunctional” black youth descended upon the mall to cause trouble, as conservative talk show host Mark Belling sounded off, or was it an instance of bad management unfairly blamed on black teens, as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane argued?
Then, more trouble. Reports of crime shook the mall. A purse-snatching followed by a high-speed car chase, several fights ending in pepper spray and arrests and the battery of a police officer by a teen arguing with movie theater security filled headlines and kept Mayfair on the nightly news.
City, police and mall officials maintain that the mall is not dangerous and that the prevalence of unruly behavior is not a race issue. “I’m not a Milwaukee native, but I’ve been around long enough to know we have a history in this town… of not fully appreciating each other,” says Steve Smith, Mayfair general manager. “But I don’t think people should have to endure bad behavior, and that’s the common denominator. It’s age blind, color-blind, zip code blind.”
There’s no question Mayfair has grown more diverse in recent years. For African Americans, it has become the destination of choice for shopping and movies. While whites have taken note, quietly discussing this change at morning coffees and at work, it hasn’t provoked a citywide discussion. Then suddenly, this crossroads became the front line of race relations in Milwaukee.
In the 1950s, the original owners of Mayfair strategically located it in Wauwatosa in the midst of major thoroughfares – North Avenue, Blue Mound Road and Capitol Drive – spanning from the eastern reaches of Milwaukee all the way to the far western suburbs. As freeway interchanges crossed its path, some Milwaukeeans thought it had potential to be a “second downtown.” From a poor mix of stores with only outside access, Mayfair evolved to an enclosed mall aiming to attract an affluent, upper-middle-class clientele.
It wasn’t until recent years, though, that Mayfair realized its full potential and became a truly regional mall. It has been the beneficiary of the movement of business and residents to the western suburbs and exurbs. Likewise, the demise of Capitol Court and Northridge malls left a dearth of places to shop for the central city. Both wealthy Brookfield and majority-minority Milwaukee are within five minutes of Mayfair. With African-American populations increasing on the Northwest Side of the city and in eastern Wauwatosa, Mayfair has become their mall, too.
Mayfair mall owners – first the local Froedtert trust, then U.S. Prime Properties and, most recently, General Growth Properties (which owns 160 malls throughout the country) – weren’t asleep at the wheel. They took advantage of the mall’s access to a diverse customer base, constantly reinventing it to satisfy the fickle tastes of customers and lure previously untapped demographics. With continued investment, the mall became a one-stop shop for merchandise, food and entertainment.
In the early 1990s, owners tore down an old freestanding, two-screen movie theater in the east parking lot and in 1999 opened an 18-screen multiplex resembling an airport concourse inside the mall. Barnes & Noble Booksellers opened a two-level store in 1998, complete with café and comfortable lounge-like seating throughout, part of calculated moves to boost the prominence of the mall.
“They had trouble getting shoppers to come at off-hours,” says Wauwatosa Ald. Thomas Herzog, who represents the district in which Mayfair is located. “They generally had… people confined to middle age and wanted a broader spectrum. So they said, ‘Let’s go after some kids, get some more older people and people who like to shop at night.’ ”
As momentum from national chain stores grew, General Growth hatched a plan. As part of a $25 million expansion and remodeling plan (which would add new escalators and carpeted corridors and place automatically opening sliding doors at some key entrances), they would group stores catering to teens and kids in a second-floor addition, just yards away from the movie theater and food court. The repositioning also allowed for additional upscale stores to move into newly opened space on the ground floor. Later, national sit-down Chinese chain restaurant P.F. Chang’s would open its only Wisconsin location, attached to the mall but opening to the outside.
In August 2001, just in time for the fall back-to-school shopping rush, the retooled mall celebrated, with media focusing attention on the cluster of teen stores. “Business has been extremely strong once we did the second-level expansion – no question,” says Smith.
But as the mall was making its expansion plans, malls across the country vacillated between welcoming and shunning teens. In 1996, Mall of America near Minneapolis required teens under 15 to have an adult escort on Friday and Saturday nights after several incidents occurred, including a shooting at its indoor amusement park and a food court fight. The Wall Street Journal reported that same year that some malls were opening more expensive and exclusive stores that didn’t draw teens; shying away from food courts, movie theaters and sitting areas; and requiring adult escorts for teens on weekend nights.
A security director for General Growth noted in 1997 at an International Council of Shopping Centers national meeting that the teen issue was a serious problem. Yet as teens’ spending power doubled from 1996 to 2000, malls were back on the marketing bandwagon. General Growth held late-night “Xtreme Shopping” promotions for teens at some of its malls across the country, featuring giveaways, free food and loud techno music.
Still, just this past January, how to manage teens was as big a security topic as terrorism at the International Council’s meeting in Tampa, a Florida newspaper reported.
With a food court, movie theater and available mass transit at Mayfair, “you’ve got all the red flags, and that did not happen by accident – it was done with careful consideration,” says Richard Hollinger, associate professor in the Center for Studies in Criminology and Law at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Hollinger did an academic study of mall security in 1993 and writes the annual National Retail Security Survey.
The teen hangouts of previous generations – like drive-in movie theaters and fast-food restaurants – tolerated teens because they were virtually the exclusive source of business. But teens aren’t the only group that frequents malls, and conflicts are inherent, says Hollinger. “You have a much broader spectrum of individuals drawn to the mall, not nearly like dealing with the Dairy Queens of the ’60s and ’70s,” he says.
While city streets and neighborhood shopping districts have fallen into decay, malls have become the main streets. And more people find an inviting atmosphere in the malls. “There’s no denying these malls have become the public places where people now eat, walk, stroll, hang out and meet each other,” says Hollinger. “But now the main streets are on private property.”
Race is a complicating factor when coupled with a perceived juvenile problem. “This is a classic pattern,” says Hollinger. “This is a mall built in a middle-class white neighborhood and all of a sudden, the shopping profile changes and long-time residents say, ‘This is our mall. Why are black kids here?’ They’re wearing pants around their ankles, listening to rap, their hats are sideways. It’s alien to them. By definition, a conflict will occur there and you have to be ready for it.”
Mornings and early afternoons, Mayfair fills with baby carriages, moms and grandmas in tow. White-haired couples stroll the corridors arm in arm. Occasional suits and skirts run through. Head-phoned sweatsuit wearers dodge the joy-walkers. Store managers do more stocking of inventory than waiting on customers.
Come lunchtime, wafts of greasy spoon smells collide over crowded tables in the food court. Notes of “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “End of the Innocence” played on a piano mid-court are just detectable over the steady drone of conversation, the scrapes against the grills, the hum of the refrigeration equipment.
But it’s not always like this. Come late afternoon and evening hours, and particularly on weekends, the atmosphere changes.
Kathy, a middle-age woman from Brookfield, was shopping at Mayfair on a Monday evening when four nicely dressed black teens caught her attention. They were on the escalator in Marshall Field’s when it suddenly stopped moving. The boys broke into loud laughter. “Good job!” one said to another. “How did you know how to do that?” another asked. Kathy had to exit the store and use the escalator inside the mall to get down to the first level because the one in the store wasn’t working.
But she seemed to be the only one in the store who noticed. None of the security guards or store personnel stopped the boys, she says. She’ll no longer shop at Mayfair at night without her husband, but not because she feels unsafe or uncomfortable around African Americans. It’s the annoyance and inconveniences of shopping when so many youths are there.
“I didn’t feel threatened in any way,” says Kathy. “It was a kid prank rather than anything dangerous. There was no fighting, no swearing. But they just didn’t have anything to do. I feel sorry for them. They had no place to go. This is a major problem.”
Not everyone is so understanding. One store owner, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution by mall management, doesn’t mince words: “People know what the problem is here in the mall, but nobody wants to say it. I’ll say it: It’s the black people. There is a certain group of unruly teenagers that loiter. They steal. They are not here to shop. I don’t know why they target this mall.… They’ve got to eliminate teenagers from the mall after a certain time of day. [But] if you say anything, you’ll have all the aldermen, everybody down here saying it’s racism. You’d probably have Jesse Jackson in here.”
“In fairness, I don’t care what color they are,” says a former mall store owner who left for reasons independent of recent problems at the mall. “But there’s a code of ethics.… White people don’t walk around in a group, but blacks do, and it’s not acceptable. It’s very intimidating. The swearing is endless, but I guess that’s how they communicate with each other. But to stand there as a customer and hear as you’re walking by, ‘You bitch,’ and ‘Don’t come by me anymore,’ it can be scary. There’s a lot of anger among them.”
Karen Tibbitts, owner of Soaps & Scents, says some customers – of all ages, races and ethnicities – have told her they won’t be returning to the mall, especially those who have witnessed fights and situations when police have had to step in. “It’s a little spooky” for customers to see that, she says. Still, youths aren’t a new problem for malls.
“This maybe is not always the quiet, calm shopping environment we’re used to, but is it bad that people are having a good time?” says Tibbitts. “I was a kid once, too. We hung out at Capitol Court, and I’m sure we were a thorn in their side.”
Though some media accounts depict Mayfair as more dangerous than in the past, mall patrons weren’t any more likely to be robbed or assaulted last year than they were in the previous two years. Police statistics show there are more of some crimes at Mayfair than at other malls, but mall and some Wauwatosa officials say they’re not out of line for the 16 million visitors Mayfair says it had in 2002 (see “Crime at Suburban Shopping Malls,” page 60). Crime statistics for the mall also include three office buildings on the Mayfair site and one attached to the mall.
However, patrons were more likely to have their vehicles stolen at Mayfair in 2002 than in previous years. Motor vehicle theft has more than doubled in the last three years, but Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber says that can be cyclical. Incidents that made up the majority of police calls to the mall in 2002 have increased dramatically. Over the past three years, disorderly conduct has more than doubled, reports of suspicious activity or persons has increased 400 percent and larceny theft (mostly shoplifting) has increased more than 40 percent. “When you have an increase in people, you have an increase in those types of incidents, too,” says Weber. “We may show more activity, but we have more people reporting more things.”
Wauwatosa police spend a considerable amount of time policing Mayfair. Two police officers are assigned full time to the mall, one paid for by the mall and one by the city. Police calls to the mall have more than doubled since 1999, the year the theater opened. Police attribute some of the increase from 1999 to 2000 to a new computer system.
Juveniles are increasingly responsible for crime at the mall. Incidents cleared by arrests of juveniles under 17 (17-year-olds are considered adults in the justice system) doubled in the last three years and rose to equal those of adults in 2002.
But the offenses for which juveniles are arrested may not be those one would expect based on media coverage of a few high-profile incidents. Last year, half of the arrests made for larceny theft, most of which were shoplifting, were of juveniles. Six of nine arrests for stolen vehicles and six of seven arrests for burglaries were of juveniles. But only three of the 10 arrests for assaults at the mall and only a third of disorderly conduct arrests were juvenile arrests.
Interestingly, if 17-year-olds are broken out of the adult category, this age group alone is responsible for 14 percent of arrests for theft and 20 percent of arrests for disorderly conduct.
(These arrest statistics do not reflect the number of persons arrested; rather, the number of arrest charges. More than one arrest for various offenses may be attributed to a singe person.)
Police and mall officials say the majority of fights occur between people who know each other. And teens – black and white – acknowledge this as well. Fights break out just like they do on the streets and in school, they say. It’s not teens harassing random mall patrons.
“Usually they [kids involved in fights] know each other and most of the time they don’t like each other,” says a black 17-year-old high school junior. “The fighting happens when there’s a big group, especially when they’ve got 10 people with them. If you had way less people, it wouldn’t happen.
“Ninety percent are not here to start trouble.… It’s the best mall to go to. It’s the most convenient on the Northwest Side. Nobody wants to go Downtown, to Southridge or way out to Brookfield Square.”
Natalie Richardson, a Rufus King senior, led a letter-writing campaign to Mark Belling’s sponsors, protesting his views about black youth. She works 15 to 20 hours a week in the mall at Panera Bread and says interaction sometimes escalates into fighting.
“In the hallway, teens are being loud… I guess they want attention. They’ll be in a group and one sees a boy and will yell out, ‘Hey, he’s cute.’ It’s not necessary, but it’s stuff like that, talking about something, debating. And everybody is trying to [portray] this hard role – ‘I’m tough.’ They get with friends, someone says something they don’t like and they feel like they have to jump hard.”
Stan Stojkovic, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee criminologist, says contrary to common perceptions, “most juvenile offenses are not that serious” and acts of violence are most commonly intraracial – “a guy victimizes someone who looks just like him. It’s like looking in the mirror.
“I don’t blame anyone when they’re concerned about kids running around the mall unsupervised. Can that lead to trouble? Sure,” says Stojkovic. “But I think people’s perceptions of crime [at Mayfair] are fueled by rare events. And perception for most people is reality, whether the perception is based on insecurity or just outright racist views.”
To the mall’s benefit, its astute and deliberate evolution has it drawing in and collecting dollars from people who might otherwise never cross paths.
“Mayfair is huge and high profile,” says Wauwatosa Ald. Jim Sullivan. “And it is one of the few places in [Milwaukee] that is actually integrated.”
In a suburb in which blacks make up only 2 percent of the population and at a mall that draws customers from surrounding suburbs with even fewer African Americans, the increase in black customers was noticeable, particularly the youths. African Americans now appear to compose a significant portion of mall crowds, depending on the time and day. And it puts two populations that rarely interact with each other in the same place and has turned Mayfair into a testing ground for integration.
“One thing we have to remember is we’re not used to seeing any large group of young people, let alone are most suburbanites comfortable seeing large groups of African-American kids, and this is one of the very few places where suburban residents are ever going to see that,” says Sullivan.
Marcus White, the white executive director of the Interfaith Conference (a multi-denominational social issues nonprofit), says anybody who says race isn’t an issue at the mall isn’t being truthful.
“Tensions boil down to race, even if they’re not naming it,” says White. “They’re using ‘young people’ as a euphemism for ‘young black people.’ …I watch white folks and I can see the tension, people moving away. A lot of white people don’t really know what is goofy teenage behavior and what is threatening.”
In conversations with members of Urban Underground and Voices of Youth – two groups formed to give urban youth a voice and to develop leadership skills in Inner City teens – the youths say security guards are overzealous and have hounded them in enforcing the “code of conduct” posted throughout the mall and handed out to teens.
One teen with Urban Underground says a guard asked him and a relative to empty their pockets in the middle of the mall because the guard thought they had stolen something. The black teen says he had no problem cooperating with the guard, but “why didn’t they just pull us aside?” the teen asks, adding that he felt humiliated as onlookers stared. Incidents like that further stereotype black youth as troublemakers, the teen says.
“All the security just makes me mad,” says Danny, a black high school junior with Voices of Youth. “They see a group being wild – why can’t they say, ‘Could you try to help us out and not be so loud?’ They need to know how to confront [teens] in a certain kind of way. Not just tell us to get out.”
“[Security guards] seem to be a lot more paranoid,” says Natalie Richardson, the King student who works at Panera Bread.
Reggie Moore, co-founder and executive director of Urban Underground, says African-American youth want to feel respected, but the way security and police treat teens in most instances – not just at Mayfair – is “dehumanizing.” “With any type of law enforcement, there’s always a sense of, ‘Are they here to protect me or here to police me,’ ” he says.
Many urban youths grow up with security in their schools, community centers, just about everywhere they go, says Moore. They grow up in an environment in which they feel people assume they will start trouble. And with a long history of conflict with and discrimination from law enforcement, “African Americans in particular have looked at law enforcement in an adversarial way.
“I don’t condone violence… and we’re trying to teach youth to react constructively,” says Moore. “But if those guards were to come up and say, ‘Are you waiting on someone?’ instead of just telling them to move along, “nine times out of 10, it won’t escalate to the point of crisis.
“It’s… how you start the conversation. If you come at people loud, with an attitude or with an oppressive presence, that’s what you’re going to get [back].”
But Herzog, the alderman whose district includes the mall, says he sees things differently. “I see kids acting up – white kids, black kids, purple kids – and when an authority figure says, ‘Hey, do you mind keeping it down?’, instead of moving on, they talk back, swear, cuss. If an authority figure tries to apprehend them, they scream bloody murder. Are all kids like that? No. But they’re getting the most attention and seem to be the ones we’re having the hardest time controlling.”
Wauwatosa Police Chief Weber says law enforcement has been increasingly sensitive to young people’s attitudes toward authority: “There is a lack of respect for authority, but with that comes a loss of respect for each other and also, I think, for themselves.”
Weber says it’s not always clear-cut for police or security when to step in. They won’t break up groups of people if they’re not causing any trouble. And what’s “inappropriate behavior” is hard to define.
“Disorderly conduct can be anything – from spitting on the sidewalk to littering to using inappropriate language,” says Weber. “But what’s inappropriate? What some of us deem inappropriate we hear on TV now.”
Mayfair now faces the same conundrum as malls across the country: Take a more wait-and-see approach, watching to see if teens respond to more security and a defined conduct code or enact a policy restricting teens’ access to the mall and more strictly enforce behavioral codes. Malls generally are hesitant to do the latter, says Hollinger, the retail security expert.
“[Teens] are the shoppers of the future,” says Hollinger. “Kids don’t stay teenagers. They become young adults, get married, have children of their own… and [malls] don’t want to alienate them.”
Mayfair has taken measures to try to curb disturbances, adding cameras and more guards to the already quite visible security force. Conduct codes are displayed on large sandwich boards at every entrance and handed out to teens. Gates restrict access to most of the mall after the stores close but the theater remains open. The security office has been moved adjacent to a new police booking room, for which the mall has paid the majority of the cost. At the theater, ticket lines have been moved inside, an exit has been opened to the outside, the arcade has been moved to the back of the lobby and reserved for movie patrons only, movie times have been staggered and patrons 16 and under are not allowed into movies ending after 11 p.m.
Enacting an escort policy, for which Wau-watosa Mayor Theresa Estness has pushed, is something the mall will do only after careful consideration from a community advisory panel, say Smith. Chief Weber is skeptical: “What’s the cutoff? We have some problems with 18- to 21-year-olds. If we have a policy, we have to do it for the right reasons… and make sure it addresses the problems.”
For some aldermen, the changes aren’t coming fast enough. In late February, aldermen took steps to possibly revoke the movie theater’s license. Not renewing the license when it expires in June is also an option.
But Weber says Mayfair officials and police are dealing with a lot of issues that go beyond behavior in the mall, such as inattentive parents, the greater failure of the community in teaching young people acceptable public behavior and the lack of activities in the community that satisfy teens’ needs.
“Societal conditions become police problems,” says Weber.
Some aldermen say there’s a point at which the mall’s responsibility to solve some of these problems ends.
“We have a lot of social ills that Mayfair can’t control, the city can’t control,” says Ald. Herzog. “We are not equipped to handle every one of those problems. Mayfair is in the business of providing a shopping atmosphere. They are not mandated to provide an area for youths to hang out.”
Another alderman says the mall can continue to succeed at serving a wide range of customers if there is more understanding on both ends.
“It’s a mutual respect thing, a two-way street,” says Ald. Sullivan. “Kids hanging out in groups need to be cognizant of the fact that this is a retail area. People are doing business and this is not intended as a social scene,” he says. “[Adults] are seeing kids there and having anxiety. They have to remember what it was like to be a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old. A lot of us were maybe not the stellar examples of community responsibility we are today.”
Community activists say Mayfair may be a starting point for Milwaukee to begin to confront race issues. And what ultimately happens there could determine the direction integration takes in the rest of the community.
Staff and board members of the Interfaith Conference, the group Marcus White heads, began what they hoped would be a series of meetings between teens; city, mall and police officials; Milwaukee officials; clergy; and community leaders to discuss race as it applies to Mayfair and the community at large. But delving into the integration there and issues surrounding it is going to take time.
“It’s something that grabs your attention and we say, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” says White. “People want to figure out what’s beneath this, but we can’t do that in the short term. You can’t end decades of tension and solve it with a single town hall meeting.”
Milwaukee County Supervisor James White (not related to Marcus White) told youth he met with after the September Barbershop incident that they should do something other than the boycotting and protesting he and other activists did at Northridge mall. White and others in the black community believed Northridge security harassed youth. Later, the county moved bus stops away from the mall. In contrast, Mayfair mall management, Wauwatosa officials and police have made good faith efforts so far and youth should continue to work with them to see if some understanding can be found.
“I said don’t get bogged down under the weight of our experience,” says White. “We suffered in Milwaukee, but don’t let that saddle your generation. Find creative ways to test the system.
“Mayfair is what Milwaukee is supposed to look like.”
Natalie Dorman is associate editor of Milwaukee Magazine.
Blacks Lead in Arrests at Mayfair
Wauwatosa police say they don’t keep statistics that break down arrests at Mayfair mall by race. But Milwaukee Magazine analyzed 2002 raw arrest data for the mall generated from police records. Out of the 994 arrests stemming from incidents at the mall, 86 percent were of African Americans. Of all non-traffic arrests in Wauwatosa in 2002, 58 percent were of blacks.
At Mayfair, larceny theft and disorderly conduct were the two offense categories that generated the most charges. Arrests of blacks accounted for 86 percent of the 547 larceny theft arrests (mostly shoplifting). Of black larceny arrests, 74 percent were females.
Of the 111 arrests for disorderly conduct at Mayfair, 86 percent were also of blacks, with black males the majority, at 75 percent.
Among white arrests, females also accounted for the majority of larceny theft and males the majority for disorderly conduct.
(These arrest statistics do not reflect the number of persons arrested; rather, the number of arrest charges. Therefore, more than one arrest may be attributed to a single person.)
Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber says it’s hard to draw any conclusion from arrest data based on race. “The majority of the arrests we get are for retail thefts, incidents… that are not initiated by the police,” says Weber. “Eighty-six percent African American – does that mean [blacks are] being unfairly singled out? Or is it that they are committing the crimes?… I don’t know if you can draw a conclusion.”
Mayfair General Manager Steve Smith says mall security is not singling out African Americans. Mall management many times does not know when customers or individual stores make calls to police. “I don’t think we are enforcing it differently from one group to the next,” says Smith. “If you look at who makes up the population of Mayfair at different times of the day,… if you have a higher percentage of African Americans or minorities,… odds are a higher percentage of [arrests] would be of that race.”
Earl Wheatfall, associate vice president of academic affairs at Milwaukee Area Technical College and president of 100 Black Men, says the arrest statistics may be reflective of societal conditions.
“If you look at unemployment… and the population we’re addressing is under-educated and untrained, we have created… an underclass that sees materialistic things all around but is not in the position to earn the kinds of resources to purchase them.… Do they value other people’s property?” asks Wheatfall, who, along with other black male leaders, has gone to the mall in an effort to act as a role model and help dissuade unruly behavior. “…I’m not sure if it is race-based or not, but it certainly shows up in the African-American community disproportionately.”