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Youths protest racist ban at Milwaukee mall

Published Apr 14, 2007 10:16 AM

For the second consecutive Saturday dozens of young people took to the streets in front of Mayfair Mall April 7 to protest a new mall policy targeting youths.

No room at the mall for
these young women.
WW photo: Bryan G. Pfeifer

Between the previous protest March 31 and the April 7 action the youth-focused community organizations Campaign Against Violence, Running Rebels and Urban Underground had gathered 3,500 signatures for a petition demanding a public meeting with mall management. Thus far there has been no response from management.

The new mall policy was a unilateral change by mall managers with no community input. It came after sensationalist media coverage of minor incidents regarding Black youths at or near the mall.

Mayfair Mall implemented its Parental Guidance Required, or PGR, program the weekend of March 30. Similar policies are increasingly becoming policy nationwide.

According to a circular issued by mall management, “visitors” 17 and under are required to have a parent or supervising adult aged 21 or older with them after 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. At their discretion private security personnel stationed at every door are now asking people they deem to be 17 or under for identification.

If the person refuses to procure an ID card they are forced off mall property. If they show ID and they are 17 or under without an “escort” they are forced off the property.

Those youths 17 and younger working at the mall, who number approximately 300, are required to have special work IDs. They will have to show them any time security asks.

Mayfair is the biggest mixed-use shopping center in the state. It consists of an 86-acre business complex that includes four office buildings with over 1,400 employees. The mall is located in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, and at Wisconsin’s busiest highway interchange—the site of the two protests.

Mayfair is owned by Chicago-based publicly traded General Growth Properties, which owns, develops, operates and/or manages shopping malls in 44 states. Currently GGP has ownership interests in and/or management responsibility for more than 200 regional shopping malls totaling approximately 200 million square feet of retail space. GGP, which employs 4,700 workers nationwide, is also the biggest third-party manager for owners of regional malls (www.mayfairmall.com).

‘Being young is not a crime’

Chanting, “Out of sight, out of mind: being young is not a crime,” and carrying signs with the same message, the young people and their allies braved bitter cold winds for over an hour on both days.

“The young people of Milwaukee are angry about this discriminatory policy and we feel that it should be changed. This is the purpose of the proposed public hearing: to come up with alternatives. We’re fighting for all young people across all racial backgrounds. We’re trying to unite the entire city and county around this issue,” said Jayme Montgomery of Campaign Against Violence, a co-sponsor of the protests.

Adults also stood in unity and solidarity with the youth.

Brian Verdin, a long time progressive community activist and a member of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, said he is telling his family and friends not to shop at Mayfair because of its “racial profiling.”

“The message is: The youth can work here but they can’t shop here. The message to our youth is very clear: They’re not welcome. The real issue here is that Mayfair Mall doesn’t want and hasn’t wanted Black children or young people in this mall for years.”

One protester mentioned how he thought it was ironic that at age 17 a youth can join the military but couldn’t enter Mayfair to shop or visit. Others said the anti-youth policy reminded them of Jim Crow and apartheid.

The youths and their allies continue fighting on many fronts to abolish this policy.

“I feel like this is a discriminatory issue with our youth so that if we just all believe in each other and just keep standing up we can make a difference. All our voices count. If we just believe in each other and everybody just have faith in each other we can make a change in the city and probably the world,” said Lanisha Martin, a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College, speaking at the April 7 protest.