It’s easy to overstate Philadelphia’s flash mob problem. It’s not something that happens here every day or even every weekend – a handful of incidents over the past two years, really.
But the randomness and violence of these attacks are terrifying to those who experience them and to many who come to center city, or think about coming.
So Mayor Nutter’s response is warranted.
But I’m also interested in how common these events are in other cities, and what they mean.
If you want to read something scary, check out this piece about kids in the St. Louis area playing a game called “knockout king” in which teens pick a victim at random and try and knock him unconscious with a single punch.
I also came across musings from Walter Russell Mead about racial and social aspects of the phenomenon. His essay is stocked with plenty of broad generalizations, but makes some interesting points. He believes the events are probably under-reported in the media because of their troubling racial character: the mobs are mostly black youths, and the victims are often white.
And he questions whether heavier coverage would only make the problem worse by encouraging others to join the action.
Here’s a piece of his analysis:
“Given the toll the Great Recession has taken on what were already poor job and life prospects for inner city youth, and given the divide that increasingly leaves poor and marginal Black youth feeling abandoned by Black as well as white leaders, there is reason for concern about the potential for disturbing and violent developments. Add to this the prevalence of weapons in some circles, the organizational base that gangs provide and the ubiquity of social media, it is not unlikely that future violence in the cities would look more like flash mobs and less like the urban riots of the 1960s. Those riots targeted Black neighborhoods, Black owned stores and much of the property destroyed in the riots belonged to Blacks; any new trouble would likely be more effective at spreading the pain beyond the inner city. Link ups in some cases with religious radicals or foreign interests who seek to do us harm cannot be excluded.” Read the rest of Mead’s piece here.
WHYY’s Elizabeth Fiedler is looking at the response in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel believes in a lower-key response than Nutter. See her story here.