“We are continuing to review videos of the incident and attempting to identify those involved. As we make more identifications, we will make more arrests,” police said on social media.
In addition to the handful of arrests on gang-related charges, Sparks said his department was monitoring the formation of groups that have not yet risen to the level of full-fledged street gangs. Police say those groups “are dangerously close to becoming street gangs because of some of the activities they engage in.”
“To these other gangs: We see you. We know who you are. We know you’re on deck. And we’re ready. Believe that,” Sparks said.
He listed a number of those groups, including No Good Gang, YNG, Paid For Real and Paper Crew.
Sparks pointed out that Georgia’s definition of a criminal street gang is relatively loose. To qualify, police said, a group needs only three or more members who share a common identifier and engage in criminal gang activity.
Tuesday’s news conference involved nearly every top official from the governments and law enforcement agencies of Douglasville and Douglas County, underscoring the gravity of the situation. Joining Sparks was Douglasville Mayor Rochelle Robinson, Douglasville Mayor Pro Tem Terry Miller, City Councilman Sam Davis, Douglas County Sheriff Kenneth Conner, Douglas County District Attorney Dalia Racine and Douglas County School System police Chief Tracy Whaley.
Many of the officials made a direct appeal to parents and warned of the effects of social media.
Racine said she understands parenting challenges first-hand as a mother with three children in public school and the spouse of an educator.
“We have to acknowledge that we are co-parenting with social media,” Racine said. “And if we are not responsible in recognizing and responding to that, we are going to fall way behind the curve. This is the time to be nosy ... This is the time to have difficult conversations with your kids.”
According to police, social media trends may have contributed to the chaos. Police said many mall employees “sheltered in fear of violence” after people were reported shouting that someone had a gun and that there had been a shooting.
There was no evidence of a shooting, and police said it has become common for teens to yell about guns while recording on social media with the intent of getting a crowd reaction.
“Discipline starts at home,” Robinson, the Douglasville mayor, said. “The system is not here to raise your children. We’re not here to babysit.”
Robinson emphasized that Arbor Place has a policy that anyone 16 years old and younger must have a chaperone after 6 p.m. She described the mall as an economic engine for the community, one that was abruptly shut down by the melee.
The mall was forced to close early that Saturday, police said, “which had a direct economic impact not only on the mall and its employees but also to the city of Douglasville.”
Sparks highlighted some of Douglasville’s programs that are available to help parents and young people, including the long-running Youth Against Violence Program and a recently created youth basketball league.
Speaking with fire and brimstone, Sparks had strong words for parents.
“You’ve got to be engaged. Not being a friend to your kid but being a parent,” Sparks said, his voice raised. “Understand this big two-letter word: No! Use it.”