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Gulfport chief: Kids choose Facebook hits over breaking up fight

Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania talks during an interview Jan 22. Papania thinks a problem demands the community’s attention.
Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania talks during an interview Jan 22. Papania thinks a problem demands the community’s attention. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Police Chief Leonard Papania says he can and will arrest kids and haul them to court over a brawl Tuesday afternoon on Prudie Circle, but he thinks a bigger problem demands the community’s attention.

The fight was filmed, posted to Facebook and shared by the media.

“This is a media thing,” he said Wednesday. “That video has been viewed 27,000 times since yesterday.

“ … Nobody was breaking that fight up. They were agitating it and they were fighting for spots to get the best video. That’s pretty sick. That’s pretty sick … and I blame nobody but those that were depicted in it.”

“ … What are we teaching our kids? You’re judged by the number of (online) hits you get?”

Papania said 50 to 60 juveniles and young adults were at the fight, which police have determined started as an argument at Harrison Central High School. Shots were fired as police rushed to the scene. Papania said a gun has been recovered. He would not say what kind of gun because of the investigation.

Community members have come forward with identities on some of the children. He does expect some to face disorderly conduct charges but said victims would need to file charges for assault cases, and so far nobody interviewed seems interested in doing so.

Papania does not believe the park is an unsafe place. Most of the time, he said, families are picnicking or enjoying ball games at Goldin Sports Complex.

The chief said children were pushing one another out of the way to get the best photos or videos with their cell phones and egging on the fighters when the action slowed.

“That same callous approach to violence leads to homicides, leads to aggravated assault,” he said. “ … it’s that indifference to life, it’s indifference to our fellow man and we all need to collectively ask, why is that?”

Papania also said nobody has come to him screaming about the way children were mistreated, “probably because there was no law enforcement to point a finger at.”

He said more than once the media is perpetuating the problem, but he also talked about how much easier it is because of modern technology to gather large crowds quickly for these fights, which are happening all over the country. Word spreads on Facebook, Instagram and other social media too numerous for law enforcement to monitor.

“We have got to turn our morals around, and then maybe we won’t be having these conversations about these fights,” Papania said. “ … This is society’s problem. This isn’t a law enforcement issue alone.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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