Flash Mobs: Settle Down, White People

Picture 4For the past few days, there has been lots of talk about flash mobs. Some of it has been constructive, but most of it idiotic drivel. And my question is: is this thing being blown a bit out of proportion? As far as I can tell,  the end result of the flash mob on Saturday was one fight. Thousands of people descend on South Street, and the end result is one fight. There was almost a fight at Quizzo Bowl. And yet there are all these people posting on Philadelphiaspeaks that we need to call in the dogs, that the city is seized by fear, and that they are thinking about moving out of the city. 

A bunch of teens descended on South Street. I suspect that most of them were doing the exact same thing you did when you were 16:  looking for the party. The party was on South Street. They went. Yes, it was on a public street, and therefore it is a public nuisance, but it’s not exactly the biggest problem in Philly right now, only the latest fad in things to be horrified by. (H1N1, anybody?) 

Of course, when you have any large crowd, you’re going to have a few bad apples who were raised by wolves and they are going to spoil the fun for everyone else (ever been to an Eagles game, folks?) That is the problem with flash mobs, and I understand the fear that eventually someone is going to get shot. I’d be all for a return to mounted police on South Street for crowd control, and I hope that these things are broken up more quickly in the future. 

Yes, there have been big fights at previous flash mobs, and innocent people have gotten hurt. But again, there are numerous fights at every single Eagles game and it doesn’t seem to be a major cause for civic concern.  I suspect that 98% of the kids out on South Street on Saturday night were merely exercising their right to go where-ever all the members of the opposite sex were, not looking for trouble.

As for a simple act of civil disobediance such as holding up traffic on a street where everyone in their right mind knows not to drive on Saturday night anyway, well, it doesn’t really signal the apocalypse for me, especially since it broke up peacefully as soon as the cops showed up. 

Is it a bit scary when a large group of teenagers congregate without any sense of order? Sure. But I think that a couple of officers with a twitter account could nip these things in the bud pretty quick, and once the kids realize that their mobs will always be greeted by police, it’s going to be seen as a waste of time and get old quick. And then us old white folks can go back to complaining about the important things, like that dumbass Cliff Lee trade.

39 thoughts on “Flash Mobs: Settle Down, White People

  1. Wow, buddy, you are way off the mark here. And I think you know we usually take in the view from the same side of the fence. Let's assume for a second that it's OK that a guy working at Olympia II on South Street was punched in the face and kicked for no apparent reason. I am not sure why that would be OK, but whatever. The fact of the matter is that this was the 4th or 5th flash mob in the last couple of months and in the other incidents, innocent victims, including middle-aged women, were so badly beaten that they had to seek medical attention. Look, I hate caterwauling white people as much as the next guy, but you are off you nut on this one. I mean, really? What about the “Catch and Wreck” thing in West Philly (which I am oddly relieved to see targets all ethnic groups) in which pre-teens hospitalize defenseless seniors” Is that OK, too? Just kids being kids?

    As a favor to you, I am going to blame your post on too many $3 Millers. You may need to hydrate.

  2. My point is not that flash mobs are OK, but I suspect that in a city of 1.5 million people, someone innocent gets punched in the face every hour of every day. I am not defending it or happy that it happened, but the amount of horror and vitriol directed at this incident seems a bit over the top for what it really was: a bunch of teenagers getting together and raising hell. You saying that I think that “Catch and Wreck” is ok because I think that large groups of teens congregating (mostly) peacefully is not as big a deal as the media is making it is a bit of a stretch.

  3. 1. Any what about what pictures like the one you posted do for the tourism trade in Philly? You know, the tourism which brings in money so that some of these very kids can have schools, libraries, etc…

    2. And as for your point about “finding the party” the fact is that recently, when kids “find the party” in Philly, people get hurt. When kids found the party on the DelMarVa peninsula, sheep got violated. Big difference.

  4. On the other hand, I am not really sure what people are saying. Perhaps they're freaking out. I haven't read any other sites. I feel like if I did, I would be cheating on you. I'm a monositeamist.

  5. Ok, so the DelMarVa bit is funny. As for your first point: would young white kids walking on the city's streets in photos show a vibrant, youthful city, but young black kids in the same photo show a city out of control? I'm not sure what's so scary about that photo. It looks like a street festival to me. But then again, I'm not ignorant as to the way it looks to some people.

  6. To me, it wouldn't make a difference if all the kids in that photo were white. But everyone is not me. (and thank God for that! I mean, how would anything get done?!?) As far as the photo, remember, the caption on the picture is not “Urban youths celebrate spring in vibrant, youthful city.” It was probably something like “Latest flash mob leaves bystander injured.” Will the average white reader be a little more nervous because the kids are black? Yup. But the mob thing isn't right regardless of the race of the kids involved.

    And yeah, I always try to work in a nice violated sheep reference. I found out the hard way it's not that cool during Thanksgiving grace, but otherwise, it's usually a crowd-pleaser.

  7. Whether you look at this picture as a threat, a protest, or just kids getting together- there is something else to be seen from the recent trend of flash mobs in this city. Whether it be descending the Gallery in the middle of a school day or South St., these kids are telling us something, and that something is that they need more attention. Truancy is at a record high along with dropout rates while Rec centers, afterschool, and sports programs are getting shut down at a ridiculous pace. Retention and having a buy-in into the community (by appreciating what it has available) go hand-in-hand. The message these kids are sending to us is clear: “we are bored”. I think that you are right that perhaps some of the coverage on this matter is being blown out of proportion, but as you said, eventually someone will get shot- and I would argue that any injury or death that occurs in this situation is the fault of the Philadelphia community for not fighting on this matter. We should care (and I know you do) that these kids have nowhere to go afterschool.

  8. The flash mob and the way it's presented/perceived is a classic example of how society is still influenced by racial biases. There's no question about that. When you add the recent violence/murders of innocent people in the subway and the beatings on Market St. at the hands of idle groups of teenage boys, the way the South St. “mob” is perceived is definitely going to be negative. And JGT is right to point out that the racial component adds a lot to the way these things are perceived.

    But the roots of the hysteria surrounding these things has little bearing on the reality. You'd be a fool to not acknowledge that any time huge groups of teenage boys come together en masse there's the potential for violence and property destruction, regardless of race. Do we seriously believe that the shit that happens on South St. is merely the creation of a fear-mongering media playing on the latent racial stereotypes of society? Graduate students in the liberal arts continue to be relevant precisely because these societal ways of thinking still exist. On the other hand, the police and the courts are still relevant because these things have real criminal reprecussions in the form of violence, vandalism and general lawlessness.

    We can talk until we're blue in the face about how the racial angle influences the way we think about the flash mob. But it's irresponsible, untruthful and absurd to dismiss the practical impact of huge groups of idle teenage boys walking around aimlessly on a Saturday night. The occurrences of violence are real and verifiable; no amount of psycho-societal deconstruction as to the way the perception of these things is going to change the facts on the ground. And no serious minded, responsible adult can truly believe that we should dismiss the potential dangers of flash mobs simply because it seems likely that we fear black kids more than white kids.

  9. so what kind of party are 16 years looking for????they can't drink at any of the establishments on south street, hell they are not even alowwed in most of them.
    so why are they not at home with the family having dinner, maybe reading a book. is that out of the question for todays youths?? if it is we are in a world of hurt. as for civil disobediance, that would imply they were stopping the cars for a cause such as preventing green house gasses. i think not JGT. you do a disservice to the great leaders who used civil disobediance to effect change.

  10. Great points all, BMT. But I think there is a difference between dismissing them and overblowing them. The media's role has become to take real problems and sensationalize them into signs of the apocalypse, and the people who still make their fires by rubbing stones together (aka philly.com commenters) fall directly in line. I think that these mobs are somewhat frightening, but I also think that if, instead of just reacting to them, the police got ahead of the curve and got on twitter, this thing could be quieted down. One good thing about teenagers is that they have short attention spans, so hopefully this thing will get old quick.

    While agree with Kristy wholeheartedly about the need for more teenage activities in the city, I'm not sure I buy the “I'm bored” thing as an excuse to raise hell. I grew up in a town where there was NOTHING to do. NOTHING. I've seen boredom you people have only dreamed about. And yet, we didn't decide to run downtown and raise total chaos. We played board games, watched movies, played sports, etc. We also walked to school through 8 foot snow drifts with our feet covered by rags and ate sand.

    1. Bah! You had rags to cover your feets and sand to eat. Lucky effete privileged spoiled American kids. In Russia we had to walk to school in bare feets covered with pus filled sores across frozen tundras with ground as sharp as razor wires. And no sand to eat only snow that big brown bears had pissed on. And no Dmitri so we all had very cold frozen blue balls.

  11. Another element to this that isn't discussed is the need for city officials to fight the perception that the city's business districts are dangerous. Tourists and suburbanites are going to stay away from places like South St. and the east-of-City-Hall side of Market St. if they perceive those districts are patrolled by groups of blood-thirsty black kids. That may well not be an accurate perception but I guarantee the business owners in these areas are keen on preventing their neighborhoods' images from being tarnished by this kind of thing.

    Kristy is entirely correct that there needs to be productive outlets for kids of all ages. It goes to the age-old wisdom about idleness being the devil's workshop. The problem is that 16-year old boys don't want to be playing chess at the rec center of Saturday night. They want to be out looking for girls and parties and a general good time. As long as the police, neighborhood associations and people in general allow for South St. to serve this purpose for teenagers, there's going to be some trouble. With that said, JGT is right that the lawlessness that arises isn't exactly the same stuff that's described in the Book of Revelation.

    Boys are going to be boys and white people are going to be afraid of black people. That's just the way things happen to be. To the former point, it's incumbent upon the police to prevent things from getting out of hand and to the latter, it's to the great shame of the media that these perceptions are given universal credence in their production meetings.

  12. no it goes back to family, like i said before, why are they not at home having dinner with the family??
    and boys will be boys are you kidding me????

  13. BMT has it right. Except for the part where he said “Another element to this that isn't discussed is the need for city officials to fight the perception that the city's business districts are dangerous.” In fact, that very notion had recently been discussed by one of the great social commentators of our time in his starkly brilliant post above (see 1., supra).

  14. In what universe are you living in where high school boys pine for pleasant dinners at home with their parents on a Saturday night? I suppose if all families were headed by Ned Flanders, 16 and 17-year old kids would be playing Uncle Wiggly on weekend nights at home by the fireplace. I'm not saying kids shouldn't have strong family structure but to pretend that this should mean that they're quarantined at night is absurd.

    And yes, boys will be boys. I'm not using that as an excuse for an anything-goes attitude, merely to demonstrate that teenage boys tend to have a mischievous streak in them. I seem to remember wanting to find a party, some beer and luckily some ladies when I was a young buck. But I suppose I would have been better served eating porridge or building model airplanes at home on Saturday nights.

  15. nhoffpajo: I think you kind of missed my point about H1N1. The point was that that was the last media creation of the coming apocalypse. this is the latest one, at least locally. Is it a problem? Sure. But we have much larger problems in our city that are much more problematic than a bunch of kids showing up to walk around South Street on a Saturday night and one of them getting into a fight.

    Here's a question: would you feel more scared of 1,000 teenagers walking towards you on South Street or 1,000 Eagles fans walking towards you while you wore an opposing teams jersey? I'll take the former, gladly, and yet the latter is seen as “Philadelphia's loyal, blue collar nature”, and former is seen as a sign that our city is going straight to hell. I don't buy it.

  16. thank you for making my point. i building model wooden boats with my dad when he wasn't in vietnam. i turned out pretty good even if i say so myself.

  17. People are prone to over-reaction especially when it comes to black youths on the street. But as an eyewitness at 15th and South who saw a wave of teenagers come running down the street and over top of cars I cannot say I've felt this event has been overblown, if anything, quite the opposite.

    I commend the city's response that picked up on the gathering mob early via Twitter and phoned in tips. Police came in from across the city. The street was cleared and the assembled dissipated. That there seems to have been such few incidents and fights supports the notion that the police did a good job. But there were a few scary moments where 15th and South was chaos. That it didn't go over the top is a good thing but one that I wouldn't build a response around.

    I've seen the Greek Picnic and Mardi Gras get out of hand first-hand in Philadelphia. This evening had all the hallmarks of those nights.

    South Street merchants and visitors got lucky last Saturday night. As did the teens.

    Past flash mobs and South Street gatherings show this is not always the case.

    Dealing with situations like this will not be easy as the Mayor said, it isn't illegal to walk down a street. But the city needs to make sure that walking down the street is possible and safe.

  18. Wow. I haven't had the chance to check in today and then saw this thread. Art has it right. I agree wholly with Bob on this, and he hasn't even posted a comment yet.

    There is no place for an unrestrained mob, white or black. Given the recent “flash mob” experiences, this entire phenomenon must be crushed and soon. These aren't kids out looking for the opposite sex, they are looking for trouble and violence. The leaders should be imprisoned and then we can take the touchy feely approach with the hangers on. This destroys the public fabric….there is no defense for it.

  19. I, for one, am glad to see multiple advocates on this site for twitter's incredible contribution to law enforcement. If the police had simply tweeted “we're going to get you,” this problem would have already been solved.

  20. I totally agree with all the points made by PalestraJon, Johnny Goodtimes, Hunter, nhoffpajo, Art and BMT, and sorry if I missed anybody. I agree with Kristy that kids need things to do, but disagree with her emphasis. I don't think boredom or lack of school activities constitutes an excuse for lawlessness. The kind of young folks who form mobs on South Street or otherwise get into trouble are not going to be diverted by an infusion of money into the German or French or Latin Club or the student newspaper. (Do our public schools even have such things anymore?)

    As for the racial element, you have to face the fact that a disproportionate share of crime in this city, and American society in general, is committed by Young Black Males. When you get a large group of YBMs together more or less going apeshit, you'd have to be a total fool not to be a bit scared or wary around them. Yeah, that's racial profiling. But the most lberal person with the most copiously bleeding heart is going to do the same sort of mental racial profiling when he sees a large group of black males. Even liberals have survival instincts.

    As an aside, I'm always happy to see symptoms of right-wing curmudgeonness and general cynicism sprouting like crabgrass among the people posting on this site. Such manifestations make me feel that my long thankless labors have not been totally in vain.

  21. Let me expound upon my idea. It's not simple boredom that is at the root of this, but a feeling that no one cares what these kids do. We shut down everything they might like to do after school, we give little interest in whether they go to school, and we wonder why they feel as if they can get away with everything. And, yes, by 'They' I mean black kids. Race is quite obviously the undercurrent of all of this fear and angst. I feel as though the socioeconomic/racial connections to public perception and attitude are indisputable. Perhaps a kid doesn't want to be at a rec center on a Saturday night playing chess, but it would be nice if he could do it Mondays after school with someone from the neighborhood that serves as a good role model for him. No this will not stop him from trying to get laid at every possible moment of the day, or trying to score booze for a house party, but maybe he will think twice about punching some old man on the street for no good reason.
    Kids need to know someone cares, black, white, male female, 6'4 and 5'2 alike.
    If the community doesn't give a shit about the kids, then how the heck do we expect the kids to respect the community?
    Anyone who asks “where are the parents” in these situations is just naive to the state of impoverished inner-city living.

    1. Man, I do hate to echo Bob's thoughts (especially when he goes WAY over the top) but I have to notice that the parents of the kids sent to jail today all were there at court…look at the pictures in philly.com. None of these kids came to court alone and none of these kids lives alone. They DO have parents. It is NOT naive to ask WTF are those parents doing before their kids get sent to jail.

      But before we feel sorry for these kids, who will get a second chance even if they have to serve a few years away, let's feel sorry for the Starbucks manager who was killed by one of these groups, the women who were trampled outside of Macy's or the delivery guy who got his face beaten in on Saturday. There is no excuse whatsover for rioting, and that is what this is.

  22. I am just catching on to the point of JGT's original post. In the wake of the rampant unrest and violence at QBVI, he just wanted to post something so “out there” and bizarre that he would draw the entire JGT community together in protest against it. Bob and Palestra Jon on the same side of the fence? Never thought I'd see the day. Well done, sir. Well done.

  23. When all social order breaks down, Bob and I can't threaten each other's lives over the Health Care bill.

    1. But the Health Care Bill is going to help cause all social order to break down. Oh, well, never mind, we won't go there.

      Law and order and crime aren't really conservative or liberal issues. I think most adults type people agree that we can't have rioting and disorder on the streets, (except maybe for your anarchist or revolutionary types who might perhaps welcome it.) We can disagree about the causes but you have to restore order before you can even address any root causes.

    1. Good point. I probably should have said people don't want rioting or disorder, except for anarchists, revolutionaries, Goodtimes and Lambda.

  24. Umm… civil disobedience usually is a term usually applied to acts of protest – Ghandi, King, etc. I hope you don't mean to equate the flash mobs with this tradition because it seems to me that these flash mobs are premised on being pointless.

  25. Civil disobedience wasn't the proper term to use there. I don't understand your sentence, “Goodtimes encourages violence as QUizzo Bowl.” Did you mean to type “at Quizzo Bowl”?

  26. I work at University of the Sciences and we are tied in to Penn's Public Safety network. Penn put out a notice at around 12:45pm that they had “been made aware through various sources that a large gathering of juveniles will be convening on the 40th Street corridor later this afternoon. DPS is working closely with the City of Philadelphia and SEPTA Police to ensure there will be an enhanced police presence in the area.” So it looks like the police are actually monitoring the technology and will hopefully cut these things off before they are starting. I guess they finally realized they needed to be more proactive about these things after the South St. incident.

  27. I agree with Hunter, BMT, PalestraJon and Bob. (and that will probably be the last time you EVER see that sentence) Mob mentality is VERY different from normal, rational thought. It has been used (sucessfully) to defend murder and looting. EVERY study on the subject and two excellent books I know of details how that, when in a mob, people think differently and lose their social and moral inhibitions.

    The right to assemble peacibly is sacrosanct. But a purposeless mob is gasoline looking for a match. When that mob is composed of teenage boys (arguably nature's most thoughtless subspecies, and I should know — I was one) of whatever race, it's not a matter of if the fire starts, but when.

    You didn't think this one through JGT.

  28. First of all, I want to note that it's pretty cool that this is BY FAR the most thoughtful collection of comments I have seen on this subject on any blog in Philadelphia. I think that says something about the community we have here (well, at least when PJ and Bob agree on something).

    I think some of you are under the impression I am condoning these flash mobs, and that they are nothing to worry about. I don't know where I've said anything to leave that impression, but maybe I am not doing a good job of getting my point across (It sure as hell wouldn't be the first time). In my original post, I commented that I am all for law and order, that I think mounted patrols are a great idea, and that I am hoping (and thinking) that this thing will be nipped in the bud by police.

    I had a couple of points to make that I didn't think the mainstream coverage was making. Mainly, that the coverage I've seen has been as much about fear mongering as reporting the facts. Yes, flash mobs are scary, as an aimless large crowd can be dangerous. However, the end results, particularly of the one on Saturday, do not justify the flash mob mania that seems to be sweeping the city, and all of the talk that I see of it being a sign that our city is going to hell. However, that makes for the simplest story, so that's the one many people seem to subscribe to.

    The end result on Saturday? A couple of fights on South Street. There are a couple of fights on South Street, I dare say, every single Saturday of spring and summer. Therefore, while frightening, the flash mobs are in my opinion not nearly as scary as some of the crisis going on in this city. I know numerous kids who don't leave their houses at night because they are scared of getting shot. Heavily armed gangsters control numerous blocks in our city, which we deem as acceptable and par for the course. But when we feel even a fraction of that fear while enjoying a $7 microbrew, then it is an outrage and a sign that the city is in big trouble.

    Yes, there was a small scale riot a few months ago, and there have been several innocent people getting injured (I don't think the man getting beat up in the subway was a “flash mob”. It was punk ass teens “Catching a body”. A very different and in my mind more troubling problem than flash mobs.) I don't want to downplay that, and I obviously am just as outraged by this as anyone, but I also think that there needs to be a sense of perspective on it. Like I said before, I am under the (perhaps mistaken?) impression that that sort of thing also happens at nearly every Eagles game, and yet the coverage of this is markedly different than what we'd get of a random ass whupping at a Birds game (particularly if one of the people in question wore an opponents jersey.)

    The police did a very good job on Saturday, and judging by what Koob is reporting, they are getting on top of this thing. Therefore, I'll make my original point again: yes, these flash mobs are worrisome, but not a signal that our city is going to hell and being attacked by crazed mobs of black teenagers, which is how it sort of seems when looking at news coverage and local blogs.

    Another point is that I don't want people to be under the impression that all of these thousands of kids on South Street on a Saturday are looking to kick ass and take names, but from reading around, that is exactly what people think. If that was the case, there would have been hundreds of fights and tens of thousands of dollars in property damage on Saturday night. I think most of the kids were looking for something to do, and the 5% of them that are bad people fueled the fire. Was going to South Street to join thousands of others a good idea? Hell no. Were most of the things I did as a teenager on a Saturday night good ideas? Hell no. It doesn't excuse anyone's behavior, but the point must be made.

    There are things that cause me a lot more concern that have to do with local black teenagers than flash mobs (Teen pregnancy, dropout and truancy rates, fear of getting home safely after school, etc.). This flash mob fad will come and go, and then we can go back to enjoying our Pliny the Elders in peace, but manifestations of these other problems are going to rear their ugly heads every once in a while, and I don't think the way it is best handled is by everyone freaking the hell out.

    I don't think that that is the way that this community thinks (look at the remarkable amount of volunteerism in the quizzo community) but I think that is the way that the majority of Philadelphians thinks, and I think it is worthy of debate. There is no debate about whether or not flash mobs are excusable or positive in any sense of the matter, and I certainly don't want to sound like that's the debate I'm making.

    1. We can't even enjoy our Pliny the Elders in peace, lest we get flash mobbed by the PLCB! Bah!

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