Flash Mobs: What do they Reflect in our Society?

Some people, including myself, longed for the warmer weather of spring.  Even though it was not a particularly snowy winter, it was cold for long periods of time.  I couldn't wait to dust off my clubs and begin some spring cleaning projects.  Apparently, teenagers in Philadelphia had other ideas.  According to published reports, approximately 200 teenagers joined in a brawl in Center City yesterday.  This flash mob was spurred on by a fight between two teen aged girls.  On the corner of 16th & Manton Street yesterday, a street fight turned into a brawl that led to ten police cars and undercover officers showing up.  In Kensington, a young lady was shot and killed during a brawl there.  What in the name of Seasonal Affective Disorder is going on here?

We have had horrific instances of flash mobs in Philadelphia before.   In 2010, the New York Times reported on the following episode:

In a Feb. 16 melee, 150 teenagers spilled out of the Gallery shopping mall east of City Hall during rush hour and rampaged through Macy’s, knocking down customers and damaging displays.
The police arrested 15 of the teenagers and, according to one report, some had not been allowed to call their parents six hours after they were detained.
Clay Yeager, a juvenile justice consultant and former director of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Pennsylvania, said he believed the flash mobs were partly a result of a decline in state money for youth violence prevention programs.

In 2011, despite efforts to provide outlets for teenagers to destructive behavior, our Mayor went to an African American church to vent about the following incident:

In one episode, teens knocked down passers-by on a Center City street and entered an upscale department store where they assaulted shoppers. On another occasion, hundreds of teens gathered in a restaurant district and menaced patrons, forcing some restaurant owners to lock customers inside temporarily for their own protection or to close early.

In the latest event July 29, about 20 to 30 youths descended on Center City after dark, then punched, beat and robbed bystanders. One man was kicked so savagely that he was hospitalized with a fractured skull. Police arrested four people, including an 11-year-old.

When I was growing up, these flash mobs were referred to as wolf packs.  Young men would surround an unsuspecting person and actually rip the pockets off of their pants.  We saw some people viciously pummeled for their valuables.  At an event on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a mob entered an ice cream truck and attacked the proprietor.  Was it for the money or the thrill of beating someone up?  I cannot say for sure.  These events occurred in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  Times change but the anger of our young people has stayed the same.

**FILE** In this photo from March 20, 2010, young people run down South Street in Philadelphia during a flash mob incident that involved thousands. (Associated Press/The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Fleeing youth in center city

I think part of it is due to the increasing inequality in wealth distribution in our society.  Teenage parents beget teenage parents and an endless cycle of poverty.  That sounds like a simplified example but instant gratification through sex, drugs or robbery leads to a lifetime of regret.  The students who were caught in the recent mod incidents probably wish they would have refrained from their criminal ways.  Trying to apply for a job with an aggravated or simple assault charge is hard to explain.  Apparently, there are many teenagers who feel like they have nothing to lose and act out their aggressions accordingly.

It is so unfortunate to be relaxing down town only to be attacked by hordes of aimless youth.  It has happened so frequently now that many people will begin to shy away from downtown.  It will take one of these youth to be hurt or killed to maybe have them think about their actions.  Those of us now working in the social service arena must be more creative when thinking of ways to deal with these individuals in our society.  Whatever they are watching or emulating is not leading to positive choices.  I hope we have a peaceful summer and that our young people would thin twice about acting on aggressive tendencies.  Ultimately, the question once again is: what do these mobs reflect in our Society?  Anger, fighting and hopelessness should lead us all to contemplate on why flash mobs occur.

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