Sounds like a bad movie, doesn’t it? First a few dozen teenagers begin running crazily through the crowd at the fair. Gradually the numbers swell to hundreds, and the teens begin grabbing and tossing aside everything in their path.
Deputies are overwhelmed as concession stands are devastated and innocent people, including at least one elderly woman in a wheelchair, are trampled in the moving rage.
The teens are mostly African-American, bringing on cultural images and fears as the stampede spreads across the fairgrounds until gradually security regains control and shuts the fair down on a Friday evening.
That’s the way it was last week at the Florida State Fairgrounds. I’m not sure who first used the term “wilding” in relation to what happened. The word apparently came out of a series of incidents in New York City in 1989 when a gang of teens came out of Harlem and other neighborhoods and went on rampages across Central Park and around Times Square. There were more examples in other cities, especially Chicago and eventually out in Los Angeles.
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There are critics of the term who suggest it is racist, although in my mind it is what it is. Investigations have claimed that events such as the one at the fairgrounds don’t happen by accident. The “wilding at the fair was not the first such incident, although it was larger than in previous years. They happen on free days for students at the fair.
The Florida State Fair Authority and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office have taken appropriate steps to ensure the fair is secure and there are enough law enforcement personnel on the ground. The zero tolerance policies being added will also be effective.
But there are bigger, more disturbing issues that go beyond wilding or acts of violence.
You know, on Monday night at an annual dinner on the fairgrounds, youths from 4-H and Future Farmers of America will be honored for their efforts in various competitions.
This year there were more than 1,600 competitors. These are young men and women who work long hours in the animal and agricultural world.
Spend a few minutes with any of them and you get more yessirs and nosirs than you’ve heard in years.
Along with learning how to raise a steer or chicken, they almost uniformly have learned discipline and respect.
Counter that with what happened last Friday. Try to imagine a 4-H wilding. I don’t think so.
What you should try to imagine instead is growing up in an environment of discipline and respect, which seems unlikely in the teens who, maybe out of anger or lack of self-esteem, allowed themselves to become part of the stampede.
That’s where the focus needs to be. I understand that school and law enforcement people, along with black community leaders, are going to be meeting and looking for solutions.
If they look hard enough they might find them in families where discipline and respect are lacking. That’s where the solutions are waiting to be worked out, long before the children grow to be angry teenagers with little respect for themselves, much less anyone else.