How Waterfront Park Can Lead to Positive Change

Droves of criminal teenagers swarming Louisville like the zombie mobs in the Walking Dead. Media portrayals of teen mobs at Waterfront Park brought those images to my mind. Our community is rightfully concerned about safety as well as what led teenagers to engage in such behavior. People are talking about carrying weapons in case of a teenager attack. At the office, we’ve joked that if we’re out on a walk and see a group of teens we’ll turn and run in the opposite direction.

Safety concerns are valid and the incidents that have occurred are scary. What’s even more concerning is the age of many of the children involved. Some incidents, including the TARC bus stabbing, involved kids under the age of 14.

The reality is that these types of crime have happened before and are often unreported in the news. We forget that the media picks and chooses what stories to report. I’ve represented several clients (both juvenile and adult) who have been shot and nothing was reported in the news. It seems that the area of town crimes occur (and the socioeconomic status of the victims involved) determines whether or not a crime is newsworthy.

Kids don’t just pop up out of nowhere and start committing crimes. Most of these children were on the dependency, abuse and neglect docket in family court. Often they’ve been removed from an abusive or neglectful parent and placed in foster care. Many have switched schools or homes more than a dozen times. These kids often don’t have a constant person in their lives. For many, the main constant is the CPS worker assigned to their case. Other kids are being raised by single mothers or grandmothers who are stretched too thin by work and raising other children.

Like any other teenagers, these children turn to their peer groups for support. Like any other teenagers, these children act out – seeking attention. The problem lies in the support they have at home. Often there’s no one to tell them that they’re a good person and that they have potential to be someone great. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in juvenile court and listened to a parent, a cabinet worker, or a foster parent tell the judge that the child is horrible, awful, and that they don’t even want to take them home. It’s really no surprise that these children turn to their peers – often to other kids who are in a similar situation. It’s human nature to want to fit in. It’s human nature to get caught up in a group mentality. We all want to belong. This certainly doesn’t excuse the behavior of these young people, but it helps to explain why this is a systemic problem.

The most important thing that has come out of these news reports is the community dialogue that has occurred as a result. People are brainstorming ways to make sure that teenagers are less likely to engage in criminal and high-risk behaviors. This is awesome, because it’s something that hasn’t been in the public eye in recent history. In fact, some great programs have closed due to lack of funding. I sincerely hope that this dialogue will bring about additional funding to help at-risk teens. I personally believe that the answer to the issue of juvenile criminal behavior is additional resources for families with young children. We need to devote more money toward the Cabinet. We need more social workers so that each worker can adequately investigate and handle their caseload. We need more funding so that the Cabinet can set families up with the appropriate services they need. We also need to hold Cabinet workers accountable. We need to hold foster parents accountable. We need more adults and teenagers to volunteer to be mentors. Coming together as a community, we can help these kids become productive members of our society.

About Abigail Green

Abigail Green is an attorney based in Louisville, KY. She is a founding partner of Kellner Green, PLLC and practices primarily in the areas of family and divorce law.