Six Arrested as ‘Unruly Crowds’ Shut Down Pennsauken Summer Kickoff Event Early


It’s not the first time this summer that a community gathering has been derailed by groups of masked youths. Officials are searching for answers, but remain steadfast in their commitment to public safety.

By Matt Skoufalos | June 9, 2024

Crowds of young people gathered at the edges of the Pennsauken Summer Kickoff on Westfield Avenue. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

The threat of widespread disruption from large groups of dark-clad teens gathering at the periphery of the event cut short the Pennsauken Township Summer Kickoff event Saturday evening, as officials dispersed the crowd prior to its fireworks finale.

Pennsauken Mayor Marco DiBattista said that the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) recommended the shutdown after first responders reported large crowds of young people converging in groups of 50 or so along Westfield Avenue.

“We’ll call them kids, but I don’t know how old these people are,” DiBattista said. “They were dressed in black: black tops, black pants, black shorts, backpacks, and facemasks.

“We made a decision that safety is first,” he said. “Our preparedness was what really saved us to have no crazy story today.”

The mayor described the gatherings as having “met the criteria we’ve seen in the past with other issues,” including incidents with mass gatherings of young people in Gloucester Township, Wildwood, and Ocean City in the earliest days of the summer season.

Event organizers had anticipated that the Summer Kickoff event could risk drawing a similar disruption, and had game-planned response scenarios that were eventually put into action, Pennsauken Fire Chief Jon Hutton said.

“We were all aware of what had took place in Gloucester Township about a week earlier,” Hutton said. “You go through all these events, and plan and hope that nothing’s ever going to happen, and then once in a while you get this, and that plan becomes reality.”

Within about 45 minutes of the start of the event, officials knew they had a problem on their hands, as young people were being dropped off in groups by the carload, and small problems started touching off.


Police from multiple jurisdictions responded to the Pennsauken Summer Kickoff with a show of force to dispel what Police Chief Phil Olivo called “unruly crowds.” Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“You can tell a family that’s having a good time, and look at another group of kids and just know in their body language that they have a different motive,” Hutton said.

“No normal person comes to a township event when it’s 90 degrees out wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a facemask.”

Onsite EMTs began reporting attendees being hit with objects that were being thrown blindly into crowds of people. No one was transported from the scene, and Hutton said that those who had been struck with projectiles refused treatment.

At the same time, DiBattista said that officials observed other groups congregating in the nearby Arlington Park Cemetery and industrial park on the outskirts of the event, as well as along Westfield Avenue.

Night was beginning to fall, and the decision was made to shut the event down early rather than risking further safety concerns. A planned fireworks show was cancelled, and after the crowd dispersed, the explosives were detonated safely.

“There were so many people there, laughing, giggling,” DiBattista said. “We were ready to give out a bunch of beach balls and glow sticks, as it was getting dark – all this stuff to be engaging for our residents that was stopped short.

“And kudos to the residents,” the mayor said. “I made the announcement that the event had been cancelled, and they stood right up, picked their chairs up, and walked right out.”

The Pennsauken Fire Marshal also placed calls to businesses along Westfield Avenue that the event was being shut down, and to advise them to consider closing up early for the evening. Reports had already come in that the nearby Wawa in the 2200 block of Clement Avenue had been ransacked and shoplifted.

“We knew that they had caused trouble before they got to our event,” Hutton said.

Police vehicles closed off a block of Westfield Avenue in Pennsauken after droves of young people swarmed the township Summer Kickoff. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

In response, some 80 to 90 uniformed police from communities throughout the tri-county area arrived at the event along with an EMS strike team some 20 first responders strong, which staged nearby.

Miraculously, they were not needed.

However, six arrests were made —two juveniles and four adults, none older than 20 — of people who were charged with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse.

They were India Allen, 19, Derek Berry, 18, and Damien Green, 20, all of Pennsauken; and Yamilet Meina, 18, of Camden City. Green was additionally charged with resisting arrest.

“I would like to thank all of our brave men and women law enforcement officers who were at this event, and all of the law enforcement agencies for sending mutual aid,” Pennsauken Police Chief Philip Olivo wrote in a statement.

“The Pennsauken Officers and Mutual Aid Officers worked together and did an excellent job in keeping the community safe,” Olivo wrote. “This type of unruly behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in Pennsauken Township.”

No explanation has yet been offered as to why these groups of young people have begun congregating at larger community events, ostensibly with the intention of disrupting them. But as similar circumstances have played out across South Jersey, DiBattista does believe there’s a trend emerging.

“It may just be a mentality right now; we’re not sure,” the mayor said. “We’re being cognizant that there’s something going on. There’s some groups of people looking to misbehave.

“Our message to the community is: we love you,” he said. “Our job is to protect and keep people safe with these events. We have many more to come. We will always be prepared for the worst and expect the best.”

This is a developing story. Stick with NJPEN for updates.

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