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    I’m still mentally exhausted from yesterday afternoon’s (and on into evening) marathon attempt to read all of the online commentary sparked by an Insider Louisville freelance editorial about the Dec. 26 teen “riot” at Mall St. Matthews — a mysteriously underreported yet overblown incident whose motivational component and assigned guilt have been relegated to the raucous court of public opinion. I counted 239 comments generated by that one essay; I’m sure there were hundreds, if not thousands, more appended to other online thought pieces and diatribes.

    You know the bones of the story. Day after Christmas. Lots of people returning stuff, spending gift cards, shopping for bargains. Plus — as has become customary on weekend nights, especially around big holidays — a huge contingent of idle, making-the-scene teenagers, hundreds of them. On this night there’s a bigger teen crowd than usual. One online commenter who was there with his family described the milieu as “like walking through the midway on a weekend night at the state fair.” There are six unarmed off-duty cops to keep everything cool in a mammoth space with, apparently, no video cameras. Some of the teens are antsier than others; they jostle, shout, fight for places in the pecking order. You know, like the guys in the St. Matthews Mall Black Friday brawl video. Security confronts some of them for disturbing business. There is resistance.

    One version of what happens next: Security cops, feeling threatened by what they perceive as aggressive pandemonium, overreact and call in for help from St. Matthews, J-town and Louisville police departments, including K-9 units, a helicopter and two ambulances. The decision is made to herd the teens, starting at the food court, toward exits and shut down the place. The young people, as adrenalized as the cops, run through the mall (“like the bulls in Pamplona,” WHAS’s Terry Meiners would comment) and spill out into the parking lot. Stampeded, for sure, but rioting? Rampaging? Where’s the property damage? Where’s proof of the phantom “shots fired”? Where’s cell phone video of criminal behavior? 

    Second version: Numerous fights and “chain-reaction brawls” among the estimated 1,000 to 2,000 loiterers leave no choice — the police show of force is necessary, even prudent. My God, reports one TV anchor, “thousands of young people rioting at Mall St. Matthews.” “Upwards of 2,000,” reports another. After running from the mall, they threaten nearby businesses on Shelbyville Road. And, St. Matthews Police announce days after the incident, there was indeed theft and property damage and violent behavior. Yeah, it was a riot all right. 

    This article originally appeared in the February issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, click here.

    Illustration by Carrie Neumayer

     

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