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Friday, Dec 19, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Solution for ‘wilding’ problem far from simple

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By now we know more about “wilding” and the organized effort to disrupt the opening night of the Florida State Fair than we ever wanted. Apparently, vandalism and mass chaos at a major event has morphed into what passes now for entertainment.

I don’t think it’s a generational thing to be baffled by this, and I appreciate the effort by Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee and others to get a handle on things. Of course, having 200 or so hooligans run amok along the midway kind of forced their hand.

After seeing what he called “unprecedented incidents of violence and disorder,” the sheriff reached out to the local chapter of the NAACP, Pastors on Patrol and the department’s Black Advisory Council for help. That was prudent because most of the young offenders are black.

In an earlier story in the Tribune about that night, Gee said, “I recognize the responsibility to address this issue and ensure that the circumstances are not repeated in the future.”

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Everyone ought to be rooting for the sheriff’s office and the others who have been called in to help. The problem is where to begin? That question has caused a lot of hand-wringing in the last few days as people grope for a solution.

Since students are admitted free on the first day of the fair, should school officials get more involved in the days leading up to the event?

One leader asked if the church should play a bigger role.

Civic leaders? The cops?

That’s all well-intended.

Still, I wonder, seriously, if the majority of those kids would even wipe the smirk off their face while unrelated adults yak-yak another lecture at them about how civilized people conduct themselves. After all, the lack of respect for authority is a big part of the problem.

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My approach would be a little more basic, and my first stop would be the front door at the home of every kid involved in this.

I know that’s not logistically possible, of course, but it would be interesting to inspect firsthand the place where the trouble really starts.

I’m not saying every parent who allowed their child to go to the fair unchaperoned that night is irresponsible. I am saying the seeds of the fair rampage were planted long before the gates opened.

Spend a few days in the classroom or front office of a public high school. You will encounter alleged adults who think any problem with their child is someone else’s fault. They treat teachers and staff as little more than serfs to be insulted.

A kid repeats back what he is taught.

The fair authority is trying to crack down with a new requirement that adults accompany minors after 7 p.m. That sounds nice in theory, but good luck enforcing it. Besides, this isn’t just about the fair.

Kids intent on mayhem are going to find a way. Even if authorities succeed in keeping peace at the fair, what happens if the party moves somewhere else?

Police can’t be everywhere, and it’s ridiculous to think a set of do’s and don’ts from the school will make much difference.

If it doesn’t start at home, this is what we’re left with. Like I said, I’m glad the sheriff and others are trying.

I just look at the size of the job and wonder if they really have a chance.

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