Medcalf: Were up to 200 kids really actively fighting in Roseville?

When I saw reports that a group of kids had been involved in a fight in Roseville earlier this month, I had concerns, but only after my initial questions.

Since the alleged melee unfolded after a Black Student Union event at Roseville High School, I knew what would follow, even though most of the individuals cited for fighting were reportedly not from the school.

Shortly after reports of a "large group of teens" and a "roving rumble" — the phrase used by the Star Tribune — the Minnesota Parent Alliance added its 2 cents on Twitter.

"Imagine being a teacher at Roseville High knowing that a 'roving rumble' of 200 kids is supposed to show up in your building again on Monday," the group tweeted. "Who is responsible for putting policies and protections in place to keep [students] and teachers safe? Then again, only 47% of Roseville High students attend school regularly… Adults of Roseville, what is the future for these kids and your district? Restorative Justice circles aren't working."

Let's be clear: the Minnesota Parent Alliance and other groups around the country that want to "reclaim" these schools are concerned about the future of white kids, not my kids. And the only reason the social media reaction to this incident in Roseville escalated was because of the assumption that BIPOC kids were the culprits.

But I don't blame the social media reactions or the commenters. I have questions about those charged with conveying the proper narrative of what happened that night: the police, school officials and the media. When police reports and the headlines that accept those accounts as Teflon spread, there is an inflation of the threat. Those narratives incite fear among people who then decide the only way to stop this imagined danger is for a greater police response.

The suggestion that a group of Black kids is running around the suburbs and destroying things was conveyed as fact without contention. It's a stunning reality in a place that has watched federal and state officials come to the Twin Cities and admonish policing for the last four years. Yet, the idea that "200 people" were scrapping in the 'burbs was not challenged the way it should have been. That's dangerous acceptance for the BIPOC kids who can be easily labeled not because of their actions but due to their melanin.

I asked Roseville police for an explanation of the events that unfolded that night and more evidence that 200 kids were actually fighting. I did not get a response. I also asked the Roseville school district for additional information. Its account of the events that night seems to differ from the narrative that went viral.

Per the district, more than 500 people attended the Black Student Union event, a celebration that aimed to "showcase a variety of student talents." The district's statement said there were no fights during the event, and even when the crowd spilled outside and refused to disperse when asked, "at no point did high school leaders or the school resource officer witness any fights among those gathered in the parking lot."

"Upon leaving school property, it's reported that some of the attendees moved to businesses near Har Mar Mall and Rosedale Center — resulting in ongoing disturbances that required police intervention," the school district said in a statement. "There is an ongoing investigation around the March 7 incidents. Roseville Area High School will continue to work closely with the RAHS school resource officer and the Roseville Police Department for guidance around school safety and security."

I've watched videos that showed some disturbing interactions between kids in Roseville that night, actions I would never condone, but I also have yet to find any evidence that 200 kids were actively fighting. Per local police, three people were injured.

I do not want to see any young person get hurt in these scenarios.

It was unfair, however, to the Black Student Union at Roseville High School when its celebratory event was tied directly to those involved in the fighting when both police and school officials say they're still gathering information about that night. I'm all for accountability, but our kids also deserve protection. For their generation, capturing the moment is more important than anything. I'm sure some of the kids who witnessed the fighting — that reportedly moved from a Chick-fil-A to a Raising Cane's restaurant — did what many kids do and stuck around to put the drama on their social media timelines. That's not the best use of their time, but it's also a significant difference from "up to 200 people involved" in a riot-like skirmish.

My daughter is a member of the Black Student Union at her school. I've attended multiple events that have displayed a beautiful unity among students across the African diaspora. It's a touching display to see Black folks with roots across the world come together and tell their story. These kids get it.

The adults who were responsible for ensuring that they'd be judged according to who they are as individuals as details about the Roseville fight emerged, unfortunately, may not get it.

Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for Star Tribune and recipient of the 2022 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award for general column writing.