More than 5,000 District youths turned out yesterday for a festive rally at the D.C. Convention Center to mark the end of the city's Summer Youth Employment Program, though it was marred near the end by a few fistfights and some disorder.
The brief scuffle came before the appearance of Mayor Marion Barry, at the end of a two-hour program of speeches, music and performances by student dancers.
Barry was telling the youngsters that the program, which organizers said employed more than 24,000 youths this summer, had fulfilled his commitment to provide a summer job for every city resident between 14 and 21 years old who wanted one. But before he could make that point, he had to restore order to the auditorium, which had been thrown into confusion when hundreds of youths ran about the expansive room, apparently to get a look at the fisticuffs.
No one was seriously hurt in the fighting, and there were no arrests, according to police.
"Just a few knuckleheads acting up," said Quintin Carter, assistant chief of security for the Convention Center. "We think the fighting was started by four of five older kids who had no business being here."
Carter said security guards removed the instigators from the building.
The rally seemed threatened by disorder from the beginning, however. Scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., it was delayed by hundreds of youths who were still pouring into the noisy auditorium 20 minutes later, crossing paths with scores of others who were lining up along rows of tables for a free lunch of hot dogs and sodas.
In addition to 30 security guards hired for the occasion, 17 Convention Center guards were on hand, as well as dozens of ushers provided by the summer jobs program. But all together they seemed unable to control the swarming of the students.
"It's just a lot of clowning around," said Marquette Baylor, a senior monitor with the summer jobs program.
There was some speculation that the fighting was spurred by impatient youths awaiting the arrival of go-go musician Chuck Brown, who was rumored to be among the day's performers. Organizers said Brown was never scheduled to perform and that no such announcement was ever made.
When Mayor Barry arrived at the auditorium, he quieted the boisterous youths and led them in chants of "Yes I can," and "Yes I will," and told them to say no to drugs and teen-age pregnancy.
He also, effectively, led the youths in a chant of "No more fights." After the rally, Barry said, "Kids will listen to you if you do it right."