Thomas: Disney apology could cool talk about racial profiling
Mike Thomas COMMENTARY June 28, 2007 I must confess to the crime of loitering at Downtown Disney.
You can find me at that toy store with the Mr. Potato Head bin, watching my kids slap in eyeballs and ears.
Just hanging out.
Not spending money.
But in my defense I keep my pants pulled up, don't harass other guests and don't curse Disney security, which by now must be desperately looking for white folks to boot out of Downtown Disney.
A crackdown on Downtown Disney loitering seems to target kids of color. That includes Garnet and Gold, given that some Florida State recruits were swept up in the bust.
Mickey is in a real bind here.
Disney sells an escape from reality. That includes removing the mental burden of fearing for your safety.
To deliver this product, Disney needs to maintain control. That is why Walt bought 27,000 acres, to separate his kingdom from our anarchy.
Disney controls access. It controls parking. That deters criminals from prowling around, looking for victims. This is why you rarely read about violent crimes on Disney property, whereas they are not all that rare on other tourism strips.
But now we have this hybrid place called Downtown Disney.
True, it is Disney. But you can drive right in and park your car without paying a dime or driving through a gate. On top of that, you can go in a bar and get drunk.
All this tends to loosen control.
That was the risk Disney took when it delved into nighttime entertainment. And so I'm not entirely sympathetic to its current plight.
The reality is that such venues attract teenagers looking for a cheap place to loiter. Downtown Orlando, Winter Park, International Drive and almost any shopping mall have all had their problems with kids.
If they are white kids in their Calvin Kleins hanging around Winter Park Village, they are treated as a nuisance at most. If they are black and Hispanic kids in their baggy pants hanging around Downtown Disney, they are treated as a threat.
You could argue it's racist.
You could argue statistical probabilities about which group is more likely to commit a crime.
The unfortunate reality is that Central Florida's epidemic of violent crime is centered in low-income, minority neighborhoods.
Another unfortunate reality is that a majority of young, minority males are good kids lumped into a bad stereotype.
I do not doubt that Disney has a problem with wannabe gangstas. Last week a 15-year-old was caught with a loaded pistol. And then there was that alleged armed abduction of a Connecticut couple from the Downtown Disney parking lot.
This threatens the perception of Disney control. It tarnishes the image that once you drive on the premises, you are wrapped tightly in Mickey's security blanket.
That image is why a shooting in downtown Orlando might not even be reported, whereas a shooting on Disney property would be national news.
Disney is not a racist company.
It targets Hispanics and blacks in its marketing. Last year it booted far more white kids than minorities.
If you want to understand Disney's motivation, think dollars, not color. It has a lot more to lose when violence breaks out at one of its venues.
Disney has to deal with the growing number of teenagers settling in at Downtown Disney. The problem with any crackdown of this magnitude is that mistakes are made.
To keep the crackdown credible, Disney needs to admit when that's the case, as it appears to be with these FSU recruits, and apologize. Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or [email protected]. His blog is OrlandoSentinel.com/mikethomas.