Mayor dismisses reports of downtown rowdiness

April 18, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Peter Hermann | JoAnna Daemmrich and Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writers

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke dismissed reports yesterday of rowdiness at Baltimore's Inner Harbor the previous night, but offered to extend Easter concerts past nightfall to allay continuing fears about the large crowds of teen-agers who gather there every year.

A commotion toward the end of Sunday's jazz festival prompted management to lock the outer doors of Harborplace, according to city police. All the shops already were closed but most restaurants stayed open.

Some store owners and callers to radio talk shows complained yesterday about feeling alarmed by the teen-agers, whom they described as unruly and rude. But other witnesses said the young people were just milling about at the harbor, as has become an Easter tradition.

Throughout the bright and breezy afternoon, more than 9,000 people gathered peacefully to listen to jazz at the harbor. The concert ended on a sour note, however, when two groups of youngsters ran along the crowded promenade, and Harborplace management locked the pavilion doors, city police said.

It was never necessary to force the youths to leave the promenade or call in more police officers than the 29 already assigned for the jazz festival, said police spokesman Sam Ringgold. Authorities reported no resulting arrests, crime or damage, except for a flower pot that was turned over in front of Phillips Restaurant.

Mayor Schmoke, who arranged for Easter concerts for the past two years after an unruly crowd led to the early closing of Harborplace in 1993, said he did not consider a group of teen-agers running along the promenade "a disturbance."

"The fact that some young people ran up and down is certainly far short of what I would call a disturbance," he said. "Some people seeing a group of young people running may think it's a stampede. But I just don't think it's a fair characterization."

Two years ago, the Rouse Co. ordered the Harborplace pavilions closed early after about 4,000 young people converged at the Inner Harbor. Although police reported no resulting crime or fighting among the youths, some people expressed fear and discomfort at the size and racial makeup of the crowd, which was largely black, and complained about a lack of security.

To ease tensions over the traditional Easter gathering of many of the city's youth at the Inner Harbor, Mr. Schmoke set up the jazz concerts. The goal, he said, was "to make this a true community event and invite everyone to come down to share a nice afternoon."

Sunday's concerts, which featured jazz artists performing at the Harborplace Amphitheater and in front of the Maryland Science Center, drew enthusiastic and diverse crowds for nearly four hours.

As the evening wore on, most of the tourists and families left the Inner Harbor, while increasing numbers of teen-agers arrived.

About 7:45 p.m., as the jazz artists were packing up their equipment, about a dozen youths near the Pratt Street pavilion raced up the promenade to see what was happening with another group of youths, according to witnesses and police. A little while later, the other group rushed toward Pratt Street.

About 25 youths surged past the Harborplace shops and ran around the outskirts near Pratt and Light streets, Mr. Ringgold said. The commotion went unnoticed among some people in the area of the Science Center. Within 15 minutes, Harborplace management locked the doors to the pavilion, police said. The shops and most of the food stalls already had closed, but three restaurants stayed open. The shops kept to the normal holiday schedule of closing at 5 p.m., said Rouse Co. spokes woman Joan Davidson. She denied that management had locked the doors to the pavilions earlier than usual because of crowd concerns.

"I think this whole thing is very overblown," Ms. Davidson said, adding that she spent much of her day on "damage control" after numerous people complained about the teen-age crowd to local radio talk shows.

WCBM talk show host Sean Casey said at least one caller complained about being accosted in a parking lot, while others described youths "acting in an intimidating fashion" and using "foul language."

Rodney A. Orange, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said black teens have complained to him that "they feel stereotyped. They only want to enjoy their evening, wherever they are going, but very often they're looked at suspiciously."

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