With minorities continuing to charge they are being unfairly treated at the Walden Galleria, mall manager James L. Soos defended the shopping center Wednesday, saying officials are concerned with rowdy teenagers -- regardless of race.
"It's not about race," Soos said. "It's about teenagers that need to follow the rules. It's kids from the suburbs, kids from the city. I can't stress enough, it's not about color."
In recent days, the mall has been the subject of stinging criticism from minorities also complaining about the courts and police in town.
On Monday, residents attending a Cheektowaga Town Board meeting told of alleged discrimination at the mall. One woman said she was unfairly arrested for trying to use her mother's credit card, then banned from the mall.
The following day, when a civil rights coalition set up a hotline to take complaints of alleged discrimination in Cheektowaga, about half the 120 people who called the first day complained about treatment at Walden Galleria, according to the Rev. Darius Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church and an organizer of the coalition.
Soos addressed those issues Wednesday. The mall manager said he was aware of the credit card incident, but said the matter is in litigation and didn't have further details.
As for the complaints called in to the hotline, Soos again said race is not an issue with mall officials -- rowdy teenagers, regardless of color, are the problem.
The mall is striving to offer a comfortable shopping atmosphere, Soos said, but on some weekends the large numbers of teenagers can make that difficult. He said they block aisles and escalators and loiter in large groups.
Soos noted that some malls around the country have tried to deal with teenage loitering by banning from the mall on Friday or Saturday nights anyone under 16 who is not accompanied by an adult.
Walden Galleria has no plans for such a restriction and wants to continue in its role as an entertainment center, with movies, restaurants and bars as well as retail stores, Soos said.