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Flash Mob Violence in Philadelphia and Throughout America: A Multi-faceted Social & Cultural Issue


Across the country, the current trend of violent flash mob uprisings is becoming an increasingly more serious and violent occurrence for communities.  In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter has acted quickly to try to reign in these “flash mobs” of young teenagers by addressing the problem head on.

Philadelphia Flash Mobs

His condemnation of recent violent acts called out the main perpetrators (teenagers), demanded increased involvement by parents, and offered a practical solution for the local government to act quickly by imposing a curfew that directly targets those most likely to engage in “flash mob” activity.  The first weekend of the imposed curfew should give Philadelphians reason to stay positive, but underlying issues contributing to this negative evolution of flash mobs should be given further examination before declaring victory just yet.

Flash mobs vs. Gang Violence

Flash mobs aren’t supposed to be groups of teenagers getting ready to rob innocent bystanders. They’re supposed to be silly events coordinated through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to gather in public and perform a quick and spontaneous harmless (obnoxious? Maybe.) act.  

However, in recent months residents of California, Wisconsin, Ohio, Washington, DC and Philadelphia have been experiencing flash mobs in the form of what’s being increasingly referred to as “flash robs.”

In April, there was a flash mob incident in Venice Beach, CA wherein a shooting occurred and a man was put into critical condition.

During a July 4th fireworks display in Cleveland, OH, a flash mob of 1,000 teenagers began fighting and disrupted what was supposed to be a family-oriented gathering.

Essentially these types of flash mobs are “gangs.”  Coverage of the April incident in California described the event as, “A gang-organised ‘flash mob’ [that] caused havoc at a California beach resort and ended up with a man fighting for his life after he was shot in the head.”  Helium, an internet and technology site described flash mobs as “Street gangs using Internet media such as Twitter and Facebook [that] are organizing flash mob criminal events for crime sprees including muggings, retail store robberies and mob shoplifting.”  The emergence of these flash mobs re-introduces a long-running problem in urban culture -- that of gang violence, but with the added component of social media which makes mobilization of these incidents more convenient.

Social Media Gone Awry

In a post-9/11 world, the issues of free speech and privacy have called into question the extent to which law enforcement officials can step into law-abiding citizens’ personal lives in an effort to maintain order and public safety.  Moving forward these issues will undoubtedly become more complicated with the evolving role of social media.  For example, the controversial USA PATRIOT Act was passed to protect law-abiding citizens from domestic and international terrorists.  Most notably, it dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone and e-mail communications when monitoring immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The evolving role of Twitter and Facebook in “flash robs” creates precedent to consider whether a similar solution should be applied.

The Economy

It’s no secret that crime increases when an economy experiences a downturn.  Traditional liberals come in at this point to argue for spending more money on the traditional social intervention programs in the inner city.  This is unlikely to happen; there is not much evidence that these programs accomplish very much — and there isn’t any money.  Even taxing “millionaires and billionaires” to the eyeballs won’t manage out of control entitlements — much less inaugurate yet another “Marshall Plan for the cities.”

As the economy remains unstable and unemployment stays high, so too has the frequency and severity of these crimes.  Think about it, media attention to “flash robs” only addressed these incidents as a national problem since unemployment rates hit an all-time high at the beginning of the summer.  With little economic recovery in immediate sight, participants of “flash robs” will have plenty of free time on their hands to cause mischief.

New Social Warfare: Black on White Crime, not the Opposite

Is this a sign of a new phase of race warfare? Absolutely.  “Flash robs” are not only economically motivated, they are racially-motivated hate crimes, and are and should be treated as such.  Mayor Nutter’s speech from a church pulpit is just one example of an effort to address this issue head on.  Sadly, rather than praising his effort and bravery to confront this issue of race, his speech has been largely criticized by its target audience -- young, black teenagers and their families.  This situation is not the first time we're seeing racially charged hatred or resentment resulting in inter-racial confrontation in recent years.  Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington, DC took a similar, albeit less direct approach to handling racially sensitive issues and undoubtedly lost re-election to his mayorship because of it.  Of course, the larger issue here is not the question of Mayor Nutter’s re-election (although it will inevitably become an issue),  it is quite possibly a foreshadow to a burgeoning phase in racial and class warfare.  

Looking forward

In the coming months, it will be important for Mayor Nutter to keep in mind and address the aforementioned issues in any comprehensive plan to end any “flash rob” activity.  And as he’s already requested, it’ll be equally important (if not more so) for parents of the young teenagers to play their part in not letting their children abuse the use of social media networks, and take part in these multi-faceted, new found, and evolving acts of violence.

Contact Alyssa Bonk at abonk08@gmail.com

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Flash Mob Photo From MichelleMalkin.com

Flash Mob Video Photo from CBSlocal.com