Tampa, Florida -- All was well Friday night at the Florida State Fair until fights broke out among teenagers. Witnesses captured cell phone video of a mob of teens packing the midway. More than 200 cops were called in to get the crowd under control. At least 99 teenagers were thrown out, and officials closed the fair early for safety reasons.
"It hurts our business. Kids are out here with their parents who were pushing their children up against our stand, trying to protect them. It's ridiculous. This is how we make our living, and this stuff scares the crowds away," said one vendor.
Related story: Fights at fair actually a common, repeating trend
As a result, Sheriff David Gee fired off a letter to the president of the Black Advisory Council and three of Tampa's most powerful black leaders. The sheriff, alarmed by the disregard for order and lack of respect, wrote, "I am more concerned that the overwhelming number of youth and young adults arrested or ejected from the midway for misconduct were African American, and I recognize the responsibility to address the issue and ensure that the circumstances are not repeated in the future."
Dr. Carolyn Collins, president of the Hillsborough County NAACP, received the letter with concern.
"We need the help of law enforcement, educators, the media. We need all the groups together, and this cannot be an African-American issue," said Dr. Collins.
Dr. Collins said violence at state fairs is not limited to Tampa, and she invited Sheriff Gee to engage with the black community. She also understands big names will not influence teenagers, so the outreach needs to be delivered at their level.
"We need to integrate the entire community. We need to do a better job of reaching out to young people and ask them why they are doing this, where does it come from, and send a message to the community when there are meetings that says if you want to make a difference, this is where you need to be," said Dr. Collins.
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