The Paradiso's Next Feature

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Crying "fire" in a crowded theater it was not. More like "smoke" in a crowded theater parking lot. What to do?

React, but don't overreact.

That was the consensus of a meeting at Clark Tower Thursday of about 75 East Memphis residents, public officials, police officers, and representatives of Malco's Paradiso movie theater to last Saturday's underage crowd that overflowed the parking lot and was dispersed by 23 police cars.

The one-hour meeting was low volume and even upbeat at times as public officials emphasized that crime is down overall in Memphis and the Paradiso is part of a healthy shopping and office center of 113 acres.

"We had a rowdy crowd that showed up there," said Col. Jeff Clark of the Memphis Police Department's Tillman Station. He praised Malco for "following the letter of the law" and denying kids under 18 admission to a couple of R-rated movies that were touted by a local disc jockey without Malco's consent. There were nine arrests for disorderly conduct but, Clark noted, police did not need to press more serious charges like inciting a riot. Clark said the situation was similar to high school basketball games in the area that got tense before being defused. He said the fights were spontaneous and not staged in advance.

James Tashie, Malco's executive vice president, said the family-owned and Memphis-based company "can't afford to have the type of incident that happened Saturday night" at its flagship theater. "This theater means more to us than anyone in this room can imagine," he said. He blamed the "self-promotional" flier for deliberately aiming at an underage audience, leaving hundreds of kids stranded in the parking lot after their parents dropped them off and they were denied admission. He said the Paradiso is going to strictly enforce the age rules. "We're not going to walk away from the problem, we're going to address it."

Mayor Myron Lowery called it "an isolated incident that should not happen again." He urged parents to take more control over their kids. He predicted that adults would get the message because of heavy news coverage, but reaching kids might be more difficult.

City Councilman Kemp Conrad, whose district includes the Paradiso, said that better traffic patterns, street paving, lighting, and an overall strategy for the area are needed and promised to lead the effort.

Citizens complained about panhandling, loitering, potholes, and parents using movie theaters, libraries, and malls as dumping grounds for their kids. Clark, Lowery, Conrad, and Councilman Harold Collins said they would do what they can but parents have to help and the laws and Constitution only allow them to do so much.

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