News flash: ‘Mobs’ aside, teen violence actually down

    The eruptions of flash mob violence in Philadelphia have made for a disturbing, compelling story. But, as Chris Satullo argues in this week’s Center Square essay, they are not the full story.

     

    [audio: satullo20100328.mp3]

    Remember the good old days, way back in 2004, when flash mobs were a benign, fun thing?

    The term was first applied to impromptu gatherings organized via texting of social media etc. The hipster point was just to gather a crowd to perform some silly public act: a mass pillow fight, say.

    But nothing benign or fun can be found in the flash mobs of teens and tweens that have afflicted Philadelphia lately.  Teens apparently are using their smart phones to organize crowds to do dumb and damaging things – trashing the Gallery mall, beating up random passers-by.

    Most law-abiding adults cheered when Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Kevin Dougherty dispensed tough love last week to some flash-mob vandals.

    Many heads nodded in approval as Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey blasted the parents of such kids.

    We in the media are stirred up by the novelty of this story. Flash mobs! Wilding tweens!!!  Heck, I’m talking about it, aren’t I?

    But let’s keep some perspective. Yes, reports about a mob of tweens beating an infirm woman as she pleads for mercy are disturbing as all get out.

    But the full picture doesn’t justify a conclusion that today’s youth are more violent, more predatory, or more out of control.

    The latest statistics – from 2007 – show the arrest rate for youth violence has dropped dramatically – a full 40 percent – since its peak in 1993.

    So let’s not cue in any rants about the supposedly awful effects of violence on TV or video games. There’s no cause reason to carry on about how the liberals now running Washington are pantywaists who have unleashed the teen-aged dogs of hell.

    Let’s admit our perceptions get skewed by a wired, sensation-hungry, 24-7 media world, which bombards us with news of violent incidents that formerly would have remained unknown beyond a 20-mile radius.  The real, deeper story is that a variety of road-tested interventions have achieved traction at curbing youth violence, particularly lethal gun violence.

    So, yes, the flash-mob violence is novel, distressing and deserving of strong rebuke.

    But don’t let it lead you to believe that either today’s Philadelphia or today’s youth are careening out of control or beyond redemption.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.