Last night around a hundred kids “rioted” at Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa, Wis. While this story has been quite widely publicized, there is virtually nothing coming in about the motives of the kids involved. Conservatives of all colours are coming out with all the nasty rants about kids today, and Liberals are predictably calling for more community centres. After reading through hundreds of comments, I could only come across a few basic facts. First of all, the demographics were generally young and non-white. Secondly, the mall in question had a prohibition against “un-escourted” youths, part of a nationwide movement of many such shopping centres, and clearly saw the issue of loitering youths as a big problem. Thirdly, it may have *gasp* been organized on facebook.

What gets thirty, fifty, or over a hundred kids out to a mall to fuck shit up? Not that it’s clear that much other than knocked-down clothing racks really occured. There were gunshots near a bus stop, but they’ve also been attributed to a robbery (and this all occured inside the mall). It wasn’t that long ago that I was a teenager, and I remember pretty clearly what it was like to be treated like a suspect everywhere I went. I never stole anything, but was always being watched. They couldn’t tell nerds from drug dealers, but they treated us all like criminals. And most importantly, friends of mine took serious charges for doing nothing but standing around, outside, downtown, looking ‘punk’.

Kids aren’t stupid, they do notice this stuff. And if there’s a local history of racist abuses by mall cops, it’s probably well-known. There’s no indication of what the kids were trying to do, if anything aside from be present, before they met with a stern response from authorities. Where things went from there is very unclear. I’ve not been able to track down one source of actual commentary from the people involved, or even anyone who might have an idea of why it happened. Was it a flashmob gone wrong? A protest? A party? A nefarious plan to loot and pillage the mall? Was it even a riot? And if we can’t trust the authorities to tell us truthfully, then what does that tell us about conditions within the mall?

American malls have monopolized public space and then declared themselves to be victims of public life. Anything which does not directly profit them is treated as a threat. In this context, we simply cannot take their word at face value.I have no idea what happened in Mayfair Mall or why, but I’d love to hear from someone who does.