The brawl late Friday afternoon at the Walden Galleria that involved about a dozen teens was one of a series of unrelated post-holiday skirmishes between young adults in malls across the country.
In Monroeville, Pa., hundreds of teens – many of them girls – were involved in fights that forced police to close a shopping center early. Two of the combatants were reportedly hospitalized for their injuries.
In Sacramento, Calif., the Arden Fair Mall also shut down early because of continuing fights at the food court between more than 20 teens.
And at the Independence Center Mall in Independence, Mo., repeated fights among teenagers forced police to temporarily bar the doors to prevent anyone from entering.
“This was a phenomenon that went across the country,” said James Speyer, assistant police chief in Cheektowaga. “Every year we put on additional manpower and every year the mall puts on added security. We expected something to happen.”
The incident at the Galleria occurred at 5:40 p.m. Friday, 20 minutes before a special detail of six Cheektowaga police officers were scheduled to start patrol, Speyer said. The fight, which occurred near the second-level mall food court, was reportedly between two rival groups of teenagers, Speyer said Monday.
A video posted to Facebook of the incident had been viewed more than 159,000 times and shared more than 3,200 times by 7:30 p.m. Monday. The video, more than a minute long, showed multiple people attacking each other and throwing objects.
“Two guys were talking, and then they started arguing, and then they started to square off, and suddenly everyone got involved,” said Dwayne Ferguson, president of M.A.D. D.A.D.S., an anti-violence group that patrols the mall as part of Buffalo Peacemakers.
Police recovered no weapons and reported no injuries.
Ten Cheektowaga police officers responded to the scene and six of the brawlers were arrested, Speyer said. On Christmas night, too, minor fights were reported near the Regal Walden Galleria Stadium 16, Speyer said.
“Last Christmas, there were no altercations at all,” said Ferguson, who patrols the mall regularly on Fridays and Saturdays.
On Thursday, Buffalo Peacemakers were also present.
Holiday stress affects teens differently than it impacts adults, said two licensed clinical social workers from Child & Adolescent Treatment Services in Cheektowaga.
“Christmas is stressful and disappointing for kids with less-than-perfect families,” said Stacy Essex. “They are not living in two-parent households where everyone is happy. Kids find immature ways to release that stress, and it can come out in a violent way.”
In addition, a group mentality takes over pushing teens to act out, said Bonnie L. Glazer, who is president at the treatment center.
“When kids get in a group they are capable of doing things they would not do on their own,” said Glazer. “Social media, too, can create problems.”
Last year just after Christmas, 400 teens converged on Kings Plaza Mall in Brooklyn, planning the meet-up on social media. The mall was temporarily shut down, prompting officials to issue a temporary “no teens” rule that barred access to anyone under 21 unless accompanied by an adult.
Speyer said the Galleria imposed a similar youth curfew in 2007 after teen fights broke out on weekends.
Efforts to speak with Galleria General Manager Matthew Bader about the curfew were not successful. Under published provisions of the mall curfew, youths 17 and younger must be accompanied by a parent or adult 21 or older from 4 p.m. to closing on Fridays and Saturdays.
Christmas fights have occurred out several times in the Buffalo area over the years.
In 2008, Cheektowaga police reported six arrests involving fights at the Regal Cinemas at the Walden Galleria on Christmas night.
And in 2006, several teens were arrested following a fight inside the Regal on Elmwood .