By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
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By Dennis Brown
By Chris Parker
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University City Police Chief Charles Adams says the possible tie between the Galleria's curfew and the increased teenage crowds in the Loop has not escaped the notice of his officers.
"We definitely noticed an upswing, but to us it really doesn't matter why they're here," comments Adams. "Our concern is that they behave themselves, which for teenagers is sometimes hard to do."
Such was the case Saturday, August 2, says Adams, when a larger-than-normal group of teenagers converged on the Loop. Near midnight Adams and his officers started to enforce the St. Louis County curfew, which requires that anyone under seventeen be off the streets by 12 a.m. on weekends. Some of the crowd then crossed Skinker Boulevard into St. Louis City limits and ended up in front of The Pageant, the concert venue located a block from the MetroLink station.
"There must have been 400 teenagers," estimates Tony Huelsmann, a bartender at the Delmar Lounge, which sits on the city's border. "They streamed by our windows for fifteen minutes. The University City police had a K-9 unit out pushing the kids along, and it's a good thing, in my opinion. These kids are ruining the neighborhood. You can't walk the Loop without getting hassled by them. They clog the sidewalks and won't get out of the way. I've heard numerous reports of them jumping innocent people."
After arriving in front of The Pageant the crowd quickly turned violent, according to police. In an adjacent parking lot a group assaulted an employee of Pi Restaurant, at 6144 Delmar Boulevard, and robbed him of his cell phone. Minutes later a similar throng of unruly youths jumped another Pi staffer outside the restaurant.
Witnesses report a half-dozen police cruisers arriving minutes later, complete with wailing sirens and swirling lights. A police helicopter circled over the neighborhood. Captain Jim Moran, commander of the St. Louis Police Department's Seventh District, reports that the Pi employee believed he was attacked by as many as twenty people.
"I can tell you that when we arrived the crowd just scattered," recalls Moran. "I don't know if they ran to MetroLink or what. But I do know that several people were assaulted, and that bothers me. We're not going to take it."
Three days later, the August 2 attacks remained the buzz of the neighborhood, though several store owners do not want to talk about it with a reporter.
"Don't write a story," implores Peggy Hou, owner of Chinese Noodle Café, located next door to Pi on the eastern edge of the Loop. "You'll scare away business. Everything is fine." (Pi owners declined to comment altogether.)
One business owner willing to speak is Rubina Patton, proprietor of Diversity Gallery and the Culture Café situated directly across the street from The Pageant. An African American and a licensed clinical social worker, Patton says it pains her to know that many of the teenagers involved in the attacks in the Loop are black. "I don't care what color you are, you need to behave," she says. "I don't want this blown out of proportion, but it needs to be addressed."
Finally, five days after the assaults outside Pi Restaurant, news of the melee landed on the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The August 7 story includes interviews from the family beaten in the July 26 assault near the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink station.
"I think they were just out to pound people," said the father, whose son suffered a fracture eye socket in the fight. "They were just having fun."
During a hastily called press conference at St. Louis City Hall a day later, Mayor Francis Slay vowed to add more police officers near the MetroLink stations and encouraged Metro to beef up security as well. "Nothing outrages me more to see thugs assault people trying to go about their business," the mayor said. "People looking to cause trouble need to know that we're not going to tolerate it."
On the evening of Friday, August 8, the Forest Park-DeBaliviere and Delmar MetroLink stations resemble something out of a Lethal Weapon film. Four MetroLink security guards walk the Forest Park-Debaliviere station, while uniformed St. Louis police officers stare down at passengers from an outpost along the stairs.
Up the track at the Delmar station, fifteen passengers — including a handful of teenagers — depart the train and head toward the Loop. Looming on the street just outside the station is the St. Louis police department's Mobile Command Unit, a Bi-State bus outfitted with all-terrain tires, satellite feeds and a half-dozen computer monitors.
Farther up Delmar two bike cops cruise through traffic while dozens more walk the pavement and man the street corners. Hovering above the street, a police helicopter aims its floodlight over storefronts and sidewalk diners.
In University City, the fire department has been called in to provide an additional presence. Despite all the recent media coverage, Loop patrons are out in force on this unseasonably mild night in August. The same cannot be said about the number of teenagers.
"It's pretty dead tonight," notes Morgan DeBaun, a soon-to-be freshman at Washington University, who says she started hanging out in the Loop after the Galleria imposed its curfew and Tropicana Lanes began to charge teens a $5 cover. "I think all the attention scared people off tonight," continues DeBaun. "I know my parents didn't want me to come here."
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