School's out for the summer, the weather is ideal and the kids will be hitting the streets - a fairly typical forecast for virtually any small town across the country. But already on Memorial Day evening, police here were dealing with a large crowd that began throwing bottles at police cars. The unruly beginning of the summer season was not the way we would hope it would begin and most certainly is not something we hope is repeated.
I'm told by some longtime residents here that many of our problems stem from people who are not residents of this community but who come here to party. On the one hand we welcome all visitors to our fair city and hope they enjoy their stay (and hopefully spend some money). But when troublemakers zero in on Sikeston and bring violence and destruction with their visit, they are just simply unwelcome.
Youngsters will always gather on hot, summer evenings and visit. That is exactly the way it should be. But when those gatherings become a problem for the entire community, it goes far beyond a simple gathering. And more importantly, when respect for the Public Safety personnel is abandoned, it becomes a community problem.
Part of the problem may be a lack of activities for teenagers during the summer months. Even though there are ample youth sports programs, ample parks and scattered entertainment outlets, there still remains a vacuum of nighttime locations that offer wholesome outlets for our kids. But having said that, I'm at a loss to offer a solution on how to "entertain" teenagers when the weather beckons them outdoors and the streets become the only outlet to offer.
A large group of people gathering on the streets is not in itself a problem. When traffic is impacted, that becomes an issue. But even traffic disruption is not an issue that should lead to violence. The problem begins when police arrive to address the traffic problem or to break-up a fistfight. They are too often greeted with aggressive behavior and that's when the true problem begins.
So should police simply ignore the phone calls of disruptive behavior, of street corner fights, of traffic halted on streets? The answer is an obvious one. But when they arrive the cycle begins anew and relations within the community take a step backward. If police were to ignore these "petty" gatherings, chaos would win. We cannot allow that to occur.
What is lacking is leadership in all neighborhoods to address these issues. We need strong voices of restraint and understanding. But we also need a strong resolve that lawless activity is far different from simply visiting with friends and relatives. We need to draw a distinct line in the sand and recognize that this entire community and the entire population deserves respect. And respect begins by following