By Sam Levin
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"I think that's a bit of a knee-jerk reaction," states the prosecutor. "The connotation with that theory is that MetroLink brings urban black youth into Richmond Heights to commit these crimes. That's not what I'm seeing in court. We're prosecuting blacks and whites."
It is a Tuesday afternoon in late July and Maggie Schoenberg, an assistant manager at retailer Jimmy'Z at the Galleria, is ecstatic after catching a group of teenagers trying to steal several pairs of jeans.
For Schoenberg, dressed in cowboy boots and an airy sundress that reveals ribbons of tattoos blanketing her arms, the apprehension itself is no big deal. She catches thieves looting the store every day. What makes this bust so spectacular is that Schoenberg says she's finally figured out how they do it.
"They leave their backpack unzipped just a bit," Schoenberg elatedly tells her fellow manager, Spencer Mozee. "Then their friends follow behind them, stuffing merchandise into the bag as they walk through the racks."
Schoenberg stops debriefing her colleague when she sees two young males enter the store. "See that guy with the dreads," she says. "He's a repeat offender. We've caught him in here stealing numerous times."
Schoenberg approaches the men with a smile. "Do you guys ever leave the mall?" she asks. "No," replies one of the men. "We're mall rats."
For the next five minutes, until the men leave the store, Schoenberg is at their side, offering assistance and watching their every move. "That's the way we're supposed to do it," she says. "Kill them with kindness. We see them conceal a piece of merchandise, and we ask: 'Could I get you something to go with that shirt you just stuffed down your pants?'"
"It's not worth the hassle," says the manager of another Galleria store. "If I want to prosecute someone, I have to call the police and spend an hour filling out reports and then another couple hours at court some night. Meanwhile, that leaves just one other clerk in the store to keep an eye on things. In the end, it's just easier to get the merchandise back and tell them to get on their way."
Galleria general manager Earl Dorsett maintains he doesn't keep crime statistics on the basis of an offender's age or other demographics. He claims to have never heard a complaint from mall tenants blaming the MetroLink station for increased shoplifting and arrests at the mall.
"MetroLink is just another way to get here," states Dorsett. "I'm not sure how those people would know if someone came to the mall by MetroLink or car. The conjecture may differ from the truth."
As for the mall's Parental Guidance Required policy, Dorsett says it was designed to create a "family-friendly atmosphere" at the mall, not serve as a crime deterrent. "It lets everyone know the code of conduct we expect of our customers," says Dorsett. "It's not meant to suggest that crime was committed by any particular age group or anything like that."
Try telling that to twelve-year-old Dante and his friends Recee, sixteen, and Unique, nine. On a recent Friday evening the three friends from North St. Louis County are walking through the mall when they're stopped by Galleria security and escorted to the door.
As he leaves the mall property, Dante takes a moment to stomp the life from a begonia plant spouting from the Galleria's manicured flower beds. He hurls a traffic cone into the street and tosses a sandbag from a construction site onto the sidewalk. "I'm angry," concedes Dante. "How are they going to kick me out of the mall? It's racist."
As they wait on the MetroLink platform, a security guard approaches Dante and his friends and asks to see their tickets. Together the three youths can't scrounge up more than the two dollars required for a one-way fare. The guard briefly lectures them about the fines they could face for riding Metro without a valid ticket, but the warnings fail to cause the kids any concern.
State law prohibits Metro from fining anyone under seventeen caught riding the train without a ticket. As the train arrives at the station, Dante and his friends walk past the guard and climb aboard. The doors close, and they're gone.
Joe Edwards sips an Old Fitzgerald bourbon and watches pedestrians shuffle past the windows of his landmark Loop restaurant, Blueberry Hill.
In the span of just 30 seconds, a couple walks by pushing a baby stroller down the sidewalk. A group of college students meander toward Ben & Jerry's. Teenage girls march up and down the street vying for attention. An elderly couple strolls toward the Tivoli Theatre.
"Where else in St. Louis can you find so many different people all in the same place?" asks the ponytailed Edwards. "I love sitting here and just watching it all. It's one of my favorite things to do."
It wasn't always this way. When he opened Blueberry Hill in 1972, Edwards says Delmar Boulevard was a down-in-the-heels string of boarded up buildings and a frequent cruising spot for motorcycle gangs and related thugs. "Back then I almost went out of business a couple times because I banned so many people from the bar," he recalls. "Eventually word got out that we weren't going to tolerate rude behavior. People changed."
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