SACRAMENTO, Calif — For two days in December 2018, chaotic fights broke out at the Arden Fair mall, prompting police to shut down the entrances.
In the wake of the Dec. 26 and Dec. 29 brawls, community leaders organized several "teen hubs," to give young people safe and supervised places to gather on Friday and Saturday nights.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced the city wanted to make these pop-up events permanent weekly fixtures.
Combining $350,000 from the city's general fund and a $300,000 grant from Comcast, community leaders have now launched weekly Teen Hubs throughout Sacramento every Friday night.
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A handful of the hubs launched last Friday, but Feb. 22 marked the full roll-out of the weekly meet-ups, with nine spread throughout Sacramento.
Community leader Berry Accius organized one of the events at the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative. More than 50 people of all ages gathered to celebrate black history, black culture and each other.
“Everything is community-based pop-ups," Accius said, emphasizing the importance of welcoming people of all ages to these events. "Of course, our Sac youth (is the) focus, but we are wanting the families to come. We are wanting them to unwind. We want them to kind of, you know, just be together in a place where there's positivity."
High school sophomore and musician Jaron Heim Jr. attended and helped Accius with the event. He said keeping teens busy with good activities is important.
"All that time taken away, you're off the streets, you're not risking yourself getting shot or anything like that," he told ABC10.
Free food, good music, games and talent showcases are all things that will attract teens to these events, he said, and that's what he and Accius are aiming to provide.
“Children deserve a better place, you know, to hang out and also be safe at the same time," Heim said. "We really want this to be a free event because not everybody can afford to be in a safe place.”
The pop-up hubs are funded through late June, with a chance for more funding if they're successful.
“I think it’s important to make sure that we just don’t stop it after six months, that we make sure that we have a real, true investment that’s sustainable," Accius said, adding that the events can expand and evolve to include Saturdays and Sundays, too.
“I really hope it empowers youth, because in our generation, it’s very easy just to get caught up with the wrong stuff," Heim said.
To people who say taxpayer dollars are rewarding bad behavior by giving brawling teens a place to gather, Accius said - the kids weren't just fighting at the mall for no reason.
"They had nothing else to do," he said. "Where are the places for us to have these kids to do something positive? When you invest, success happens. When you don't invest, chaos happens."
The City's investment of $350,000, he said, is worth it.
“We shouldn’t be angry or frustrated at this kind of investment. It’s a small investment. It’s nothing that is going to be something anyone’s going to miss," he said.
"If you can invest in an arena and you can invest in the renaissance of downtown, you have to invest in a renaissance everywhere else in Sacramento," he added. "I remember when we did a lot of cuts in this City and a lot of the programs got cut, and these young people were left astray. So now, this is the end result, of now young kids being in this chaotic state of mind. So we have to be able to invest.”
The Greater Sacramento Urban League is hosting a pop-up event next Fri., March 1, at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church's Family Life Center in Oak Park, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., following the weekly Oak Park Peace Walk, which starts at the same location at 5 p.m.
On March 16, a pop-up will be held at the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative at 4625 44th Street in Sacramento, which Accius is calling "a youth explosion." Heim will emcee and play with his band at that event.
Then, on March 22, also at the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative, Accius is organizing a dance competition.
All of these events are free to the public.
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When violent mobs shut down Arden Fair Mall two nights in row at the end of the year, we heard from you. Hundreds of you shared your ideas for ways to keep it from happening again. Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn sat down with ABC10 to offer his first public comments about the brawls.