A recent set of skirmishes that took place on Saturday, December 28, at The Providence Place Mall, are an example of how buffoonery and optics contribute to a greater, misguided perception — and an element of hysteria — about the state’s capital city.
The feuds, which appeared to be sparked by social media and between area teenagers, produced a locally viral video that depicts a Providence Place security officer attempting to execute a diving, NFL-style tackle on a fleeing combatant. Overall, the events led to the arrest of eight juveniles, according to Providence Police, and several have been banned by Providence Place.
While some Twitter users and at least one media personality immediately ran with the notion that “gang violence” had infiltrated Providence Place, the reality was, in fact, more like a teenage Americana/World Star affair — the modern day equivalent of muscle cars swerving into a Little League field parking lot for a Saturday evening throwdown between high school rivals. Obviously, this does not excuse the misconduct of the juveniles who disrupted the experience of other mall patrons, shopkeepers, security officers and mall owners.
In a similar way that PVD’s school challenges enhance negative perceptions about the city to the greater region, the optics of the incidents at Providence Place fuel a dangerous, xenophobic and generally inaccurate perception of overall public safety in Providence. Though it is replete with challenges, Providence is a relatively safe city, with crime rates and other key metrics routinely indicating as such; however, there is undoubtedly a great divide between haves and have-nots in the creative capital.
While Rhode Islanders should be focused on how to intelligently manage and eventually remove as much of that divide as possible, incidents such as the recent mall fights, while not worthy of the degree of hysterics that led some to classify it as gang warfare, and in theory, a consequence of police shortages and other systemic issues, do little to help win over new support to address actual needs — or help to expand the city’s economic activity.