Leaders discuss movie theater fight

Officials want to open communication with young people

Published On: Jan 03 2014 05:51:19 AM EST   Updated On: Jan 03 2014 08:10:44 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Local leaders and residents met Friday morning to discuss what the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office called a melee at the Hollywood Theater in River City Marketplace on Christmas Day.

On Christmas, police said a group of young people tried to get inside the movie theater without paying and the commotion led to a fight involving 600 young adults. More than 60 police officers responded. Five people were arrested, and many more were sent home with their parents.

Leaders met Friday to address the issue. Keep Jacksonville Beautiful Commissioner Cherlyn Williams released a statement that said, in part, "What was reported to have occurred at Hollywood Theaters is not representative of our young people, our culture or our community."

Williams, school board member Paula Wright and city councilman Johnny Gaffney have developed a plan to try and ensure something like this does not happen again. According to the news release, the plan focuses on respect, restraint and responsibility.

"These are our children. So we are working for one cause one mission, one vision, one objective," Gaffney said. "It's our children, our kids. Sometimes our kids just need to know that somebody cares."

The group wants to first start a website as a way to communicate with young adults and listen to their concerns and suggestions.

They also plan to launch a listening tour at area high schools. At those meetings teenagers can also provide suggestions for avoiding any future violence.

"Because we are going to be working in connection and collaboration with the schools, we are going to have a targeted audience," Wright said. "So we are going to be able to talk to the students one-on-one so that we can understand their concerns."

The group wants to find a way to increase parental and community involvement.

All this data collected from students, parents and the community will help to compile a quarterly report that will outline the issues of the most concern for students and parents.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Director Micheal Edwards said he is aware of some of the concerns from teenagers who were arrested that night and their families saying police used excessive force.

"They kicked me pretty hard," said one teen who was arrested. "I realized I had a bruise on my ribs. When they arrested me they sent me to the hospital."

Edwards said the officers did an exemplary job, and it could have been much worse. Edwards said the officers did everything they could to show restraint.

"You've got a large crowd of about 500-600 individuals and we only made five arrests," Edwards said. "There were no major injuries. There is no large amount of property damage."

Edwards said the melee does not appear to have been planned on social media, and most of the 600 people there were just innocent bystanders and weren't committing crimes.

He said the investigation is still ongoing and police are trying to identify four people involved in the melee.