Recent violence in the city has officials and community residents questioning if the practice of flash mobs are on the rise. Coupled with the recent news that crime in the city is on the rise, activists are also questioning how the alarming trend is being handled by the city.
A flash mob is defined as a gathering of people organized by e-mail, social networking or telecommunications such a text messaging. In the past, the practice has been used for more humorous occasions like snowball fights and even sing-alongs.
However, recently, youth have been using the tactic as a way to wreak havoc in communities by meeting in public places, sometimes by the hundreds, and rioting, vandalizing and even assaulting innocent people.
Reports indicate these types of violent acts have become a trend in Philadelphia, where in the last year, four incidents of flash mob gatherings turned violent. The most recent occurred last month, when hundreds of teenagers spilled into downtown Philadelphia fighting each other, assaulting people and partaking in vandalism.
In February, a group of 150 teens gathered at a shopping mall in Philadelphia during rush hour, violently knocking down customers and vandalizing displays. As a result, 15 teenagers were arrested.
In response to the flash mobs, the Philadelphia Police Department has enforced curfews and limited access on public transportation to youth. The FBI has also begun monitoring social networking websites, according to one report.
Targeting parents as a factor for the problem, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has asked parents to keep better tabs on their children during after-school and night hours with one familiar question: “Do you know where your children are?”
He said, “A small group of kids who have caused trouble should not reflect poorly on the majority of our youth, who are well-behaved and want to enjoy themselves in a peaceful way. There are plenty of activities to keep our kids busy in after-school programs, but it’s the responsibility of parents to know where their children are late at night.”
Evidence of possible flash mobs starting to occur in New York was seen this past Easter Sunday when violence broke out in Midtown, leading to the arrest of 33 people and four people being shot by BB guns. Reports indicate that the incident occurred along Seventh Avenue, with shots being fired on 41st, 51st and 34th streets.
The chaos began at the International Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center. Business owners in the area said that the incident is an annual activity that takes place on Easter Sunday and appears to be gang-related.
“There’s a disconnect with youth,” said Graham Witherspoon of the Black in Law Enforcement Alliance. “You don’t go around and destroy stuff and call it fun. This is something we really need to look at. There’s nothing cultural about this. It doesn’t make a difference who you are. It’s not a race thing.”
Concerns are growing among top elected officials who believe that the city is going backwards to a time when crime in the city was rampant. With proposed cuts to the NYPD, some are saying things could only get worse.
“While law enforcement authorities investigate the violent uprising that resulted in three shootings and dozens of arrests, we need to get in front of this growing epidemic before we find ourselves reliving the bad, old days of the 1970s,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “New Yorkers are on edge, and for good reason. With shootings up 19 percent over the same time last year and murders up 22 percent, everyone should be on heightened alert.”
The borough president added that the city cannot withstand budget cuts from Albany and that Sunday’s melee is an example of what could happen.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg denied in a press conference that the Midtown incident had any affiliation with terrorism and blamed it on gangs looking for trouble.
“The mayhem in Midtown appears to be a bunch of gang members wilding and it certainly has nothing to do with terrorism or anything else,” said Bloomberg. “A bunch of people who think it is cute to cause chaos. We have loaded the area with police, but they can’t be everywhere”
Bloomberg’s statement has struck a cord with activists who say that the mayor is using a scare tactic by using the word “wilding.” The term was coined during the incident of the “Central Park jogger” in 1989, where a group of Black teenagers were accused of beating and raping a white women. After being convicted and serving six to 13 years in prison, the five men involved were released and found innocent due to DNA evidence.
Omowale Clay of the December 12 Movement said the term “wilding” was first used by former Mayor Ed Koch to describe gang assaults on strangers. However, no such incident ever occurred in 1989 due to the fact that the accused suspects were later found not guilty.
“Bloomberg used it as a scare tactic,” he said. “Are we now going back to a time when Black men were ‘wilding?’ This is a code word and 21 years later they want to use it once again as a fear mongering tactic for the threat of Black men and youth raping a white woman.”