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March 25, 2010 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Flash Mobs Take Violent Turn in Philadelphia
[H]undreds of teenagers have been converging downtown for a ritual that is part bullying, part running of the bulls: sprinting down the block, the teenagers sometimes pause to brawl with one another, assault pedestrians or vandalize property. . . . The flash mobs have raised questions about race and class. Most of the teenagers who have taken part in them are black and from poor neighborhoods. Most of the areas hit have been predominantly white business districts. In the flash mob on Saturday, groups of teenagers were chanting “black boys” and “burn the city,” bystanders said.
Bill Wasik is not proud.
posted by grobstein (70 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't quite tell from the article whether this is a real story or some kind of moral panic, but it's interesting either way.
posted by grobstein at 11:04 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't really have much to add, other than this: the other day, I was driving home from work on a remote back road in Central Pennsylvania, where I live, and the only AM station that would come in had some local host talking about these flash mobs in Philly. And, I shit you not, he said that this is what you get when you have "young kids at home doing nothing all day but playing their video games, you know, playing Donkey Kong all day." I tell you, folks, I lost it.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:08 AM on March 25, 2010 [39 favorites]


If it were a group of wealthy caucasian men in equal size and behavior it would likely be considered an act of camaraderie. Or, any large city when its home team wins the finals of some sport.
posted by Doug Stewart at 11:09 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Those retro-old school gamer kids are all psycho, I tell you!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:09 AM on March 25, 2010


If it were a group of wealthy caucasian men in equal size and behavior it would likely be considered an act of camaraderie. Or, any large city when its home team wins the finals of some sport.

Please do not try to normalize the behavior of Bostonians.
posted by grobstein at 11:14 AM on March 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


Wait, what's the mechanism for these mobs? And what's causing them to mob? Just saying "flash mob" isn't as enlightening as the NYT thinks it is; might as well just blame the "Internet."
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


good they're not playing frogger or else theyd be doin it in the middle of the street!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:14 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


The End of Days panic among working and middle class whites in Philadelphia is very real though the actual damage done by the groups of teens compared to say the total carnage left by mobs of white people in the wake of the Phillies winning the World Series and the Pennant is minimal. At this point the media hype is totally insane, yesterday UPenn sent out an alert to students warning of another flash mob on 40th Street and the flash mob turned out to be 600 white journalists standing around with notepads and video cameras waiting for black teens to show up and act all crazy for them.
posted by The Straightener at 11:15 AM on March 25, 2010 [45 favorites]


If it were a group of wealthy caucasian men in equal size and behavior it would likely be considered an act of camaraderie. Or, any large city when its home team wins the finals of some sport.

There's not a double standard for everything.
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:17 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is what comes from the passing of the health care legislation.
posted by philip-random at 11:19 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Straightener: any answer to the question of where these are developing? Facebook, twitter, some other ungodly heathen mechanism we cannot even imagine?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2010


Wait, what's the mechanism for these mobs? And what's causing them to mob? Just saying "flash mob" isn't as enlightening as the NYT thinks it is; might as well just blame the "Internet."

It's really tough to pin down which Twitter feeds or Facebook groups might be starting the chain reaction that results in these crowds forming (I've been looking pretty hard because people are contacting me asking me to write about this). Also, it's important to note that South Street has been plagued by crowd control problems for years and last Saturday night was the first warm night of the year so even without social media it would have been pretty crazy around there. So, really, Saturday night totally might not have even been a "flash mob" in the sense that they are generally understood, it's really might have been a bunch of different groups independently deciding to meet up at the central meeting spot where everyone meets up on the first warm spring nights anyway it's just that there were a ton more people than usual there because now everyone is so connected via social media and cell technology.
posted by The Straightener at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Also, like New Yorkers, residents of the Internet do not suffer fools, or mince words in belittling them, as anyone who has contributed a redundant post to Metafilter, or an earnest comment to Gawker, can attest."
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2010


I can't quite tell from the article whether this is a real story or some kind of moral panic, but it's interesting either way.

It's a little of both. We have one local councilperson proposing that we 'sue the internet.' We have kind of well-meaning, likable, but clueless mayor. We have a police commissioner that correctly points out that he is not a social worker, that his job is to maintain order. The end result is that people (i.e suburbanites like me) are getting the loud and clear message that something is seriously wrong in the city. Some armchair-Marxist-alt-weekly-types are claiming that these are happening in marginal retail locations. The Gallery, South Street after the chains all left. While they media love's to say 'flash mob' and 'Twitter' and 'Facebook' there seems to be little or no evidence that these things are being organized in that fashion. Kids are quoted as saying 'my boys call me up, or text me, yo let's meet up.'
posted by fixedgear at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2010


I did find one Twitter feed where duder was talking about how his boys were calling him a few hours before the mob formed telling him to meet them at South Street but he couldn't go because he couldn't get a ride. Took out their Twitter screen names because I don't want to blow them up on here. One tweet bolded for hilariousness.


South street is not the moves . Ain't shit to do it's prolly gonna be like 10 rumbles Thats about it
3:55 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator

I need a car man
4:47 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator

No ride niggas fraudin Wtf
5:21 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator


@**** what time yal leaving ?
5:35 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator

Meach jus called me super late
5:50 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator in reply to ****

@**** I'm really sorry I can't come no more I have no ride or nothing
5:58 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator

Fuck fuck fuck fuck...
5:35 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator


@**** hope yu enjoy yur festivities . Sorry again
6:21 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator

Stop txtn me bout south street y'all niggas dead broke jus walkin around lmao
6:27 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator

@**** I was to suppose to go too I thought I had a ride bt my Manz couldn't get the car
6:32 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator

Kanye Shrug!
7:12 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator

RT @**** @**** the cops was drawlin & ppl was rumblin #thatsdead<----- Told yu niggas dnt kno how to act
10:26 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator
posted by The Straightener at 11:35 AM on March 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


"the police here said .... that they planned to hold parents legally responsible for their children’s actions."

There's the answer. Do this and most of this type of behavior would cease to be.
posted by photoslob at 11:39 AM on March 25, 2010


OMG four kid rumbles in a year in one of nation's largest cities = cataclysmic trend!!!

In the past year, at least four of the flash mobs have broken out in the city, including one on Saturday in which roving teenagers broke into fights, several onlookers were injured and at least three people were arrested.
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:39 AM on March 25, 2010


Flash mobs? Sounds more like an old-fashioned riot.
posted by schmod at 11:40 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's more like four since December.
posted by fixedgear at 11:41 AM on March 25, 2010


So tired of this fetish for retro-70's stuff.
posted by GuyZero at 11:42 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Larry Niven saw it coming.

Sounds a lot like "The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club," (short excerpt)
posted by warbaby at 11:45 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Flash Mob Free Zone
posted by fixedgear at 11:48 AM on March 25, 2010


Any chance of bringing this to the west coast?
posted by telstar at 12:02 PM on March 25, 2010


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: "I don't really have much to add, other than this: the other day, I was driving home from work on a remote back road in Central Pennsylvania, where I live, and the only AM station that would come in had some local host talking about these flash mobs in Philly. And, I shit you not, he said that this is what you get when you have "young kids at home doing nothing all day but playing their video games, you know, playing Donkey Kong all day." I tell you, folks, I lost it."

No, what happens is you have a new dude who recently gains the world title in Donkey Kong!

(though I wouldn't put it past Billy Mitchell to pull a stunt like this)

(also: isn't sitting at home all day playing video games kinda antithetical to the whole getting out and causing trouble thing? cuz, i mean, ya know: YOU'RE HOME ALL DAY!)
posted by symbioid at 12:09 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doug Stewart: If it were a group of wealthy caucasian men in equal size and behavior it would likely be considered an act of camaraderie. Or, any large city when its home team wins the finals of some sport.

What are you saying? Do you consider these mobs an 'act of camaraderie'? Because one comparison that comes to mind about frequent mindless violence by gangs of white men is European football hooliganism, and those assholes are widely despised, as they should be.

I'm a bit scared when someone's only reaction to massive gangs attacking random strangers is "wah wah [imaginary double standard]".
posted by Anything at 12:24 PM on March 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


The first rule of Permanent floating riot club is you do not talk about permanent floating riot club.
posted by djduckie at 12:29 PM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


> young kids at home doing nothing all day but playing their video games, you know, playing Donkey Kong all day.

Don't scoff. One afternoon in 1981 I blacked out in the middle of a Donkey Kong marathon. When I came to I was in jail, and they told me I'd been hauled off by zoo security after I'd attempted to jump into the gorilla enclosure while waving a hammer around.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:34 PM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


"young kids at home doing nothing all day but playing their video games, you know, playing Donkey Kong all day."

And how do we know that the DJ wasn't on to something? When this flash mob started turning violent, did they immediately start climbing the scaffolding on the front of a building?

I mean, I've always said that DK was just an ape-attack (see above) barrel-jumping simulator that was going to lead to no good.
posted by quin at 1:04 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Internet organised mobs of teenagers running riot? Ramp up the violence/intent a little more and this was a CSI episode starring Kevin Federline. Or an S.E. Hinton book. Whichever.
posted by saturnine at 1:05 PM on March 25, 2010


Article says that the police believe the few attacks are unrelated to the flash mob. So the whole article sounds rather sensationalized. Also, do we ever use the word "mob" for a non-violent group?
posted by asfuller at 1:08 PM on March 25, 2010


Makes me think of the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. music video...
posted by daq at 1:14 PM on March 25, 2010


Stop txtn me bout south street y'all niggas dead broke jus walkin around lmao

A key point. I remember hearing business owners saying essentially the kids would be welcomed if they were buying things.
posted by gac at 1:19 PM on March 25, 2010


starring Kevin Federline. Or an S.E. Hinton book.

Put em together... The West-Sai-eed-ers
posted by Babblesort at 1:24 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just want to say, as a skinny woman in a wheelchair (and thus an easy target), I have had no problems in Philly thus far. North Philly, West Philly, South Philly, all's been well. Just don't want people to get the impression that the youth are going wild on anything like a regular basis.
posted by angrycat at 1:34 PM on March 25, 2010


I remember hearing business owners saying essentially the kids would be welcomed if they were buying things.

I hope we are not yet quite at the point that business owners have veto power over the use of the public roads.
posted by enn at 1:44 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Flash mobs? Sounds more like an old-fashioned riot.

I had the same reaction. Didn't they used to just call this "wilding?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:54 PM on March 25, 2010


The amount of inane chatter and speculation about this in the city right now is just...so...embarrassing.
posted by desuetude at 1:58 PM on March 25, 2010


I know some people who live on South Street and they said it was pretty nuts, but, predictably, it got much worse when the police moved in all heavy and caused a stampede. That kind of reaction tends to do more harm than good.
posted by Mister_A at 2:18 PM on March 25, 2010


fixedgear: Manny Brown's is a standing flash mob, but one that smells like puke.

SRSLY.
posted by Mister_A at 2:21 PM on March 25, 2010


From what I've heard it's mostly text messages from phone to phone that are being used to spread news of these events. Some people keep saying it's Twitter, but nobody's actually been able to turn up the tweets in question.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:33 PM on March 25, 2010


At least it's not being referred to as a Sliverlight Mob.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:39 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Shocking new trend: disorderly underprivledged youths loitering in public!
posted by [citation needed] at 2:43 PM on March 25, 2010


Now they'll be too self-conscious to riot with abandon.
posted by longsleeves at 2:52 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yknow, just the other day I was asking my wife 'Whatever happened to wilding?'

And there ya go.
posted by davelog at 2:52 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I get killed at the TLA on Sunday, you guys can have my favorites.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 2:59 PM on March 25, 2010


Donkey Kong is the instrument of the devil.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 3:00 PM on March 25, 2010


angrycat: Just want to say, as a skinny woman in a wheelchair (and thus an easy target), I have had no problems in Philly thus far. North Philly, West Philly, South Philly, all's been well. Just don't want people to get the impression that the youth are going wild on anything like a regular basis.

Not surprisingly, you didn't mention Kensington. Even the cops stay away from K and A. I lived half of my life in NE Philly and never had a problem - because I knew what to avoid and when to avoid it. In my day, Bridesburg and Fishtown were fine, but only a few blocks away in Kensington there was nothing but trouble. Maybe in the day you'd go there to stop and cop, but never at night. Now you don't even go there in the day.

Essentially what these flash mobs are is the recreation in any part of the city of the critical mass found around Kensington and Allegheny and this is not a good thing. You cannot avoid it because it has no boundaries.

(And the idea of a few years ago of offering free WiFi across all of Philadelphia looks even more absurd now.)
posted by three blind mice at 3:16 PM on March 25, 2010


And, I shit you not, he said that this is what you get when you have "young kids at home doing nothing all day but playing their video games, you know, playing Donkey Kong all day." I tell you, folks, I lost it.

and

Those retro-old school gamer kids are all psycho, I tell you!

and

good they're not playing frogger or else theyd be doin it in the middle of the street!

I think it's clear these kids gather with a clear intent to mame.

[insert 8-bit rim shot here]
posted by davejay at 3:24 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, just talked to a friend who witnessed the whole thing and he said they were actually picking up litter, minding their own business, when my ex-girlfriend, a rich, Caucasian investment banker at Goldman Sachs, showed up and provoked them to fight each other. Making matters worse were the cops, who arrest people for doing drugs.
posted by stevenstevo at 3:32 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd say the city is probably ok until these retro-gamers discover Rampage.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:35 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Philly is a strange town. Sure it has its good points, but it was under the thumb of asshole Frank Rizzo for years... first as the chief of a brutal and corrupt police force and then as a two term mayor. He’s dead now but, if he could run as Zombie Frank Rizzo, people would want him to eat their brains like he used to eat their brains back in the day.

Philly is a strange town. It has its good points, but it also scares the shit out of me. I guess its like Baltimore, only bigger and more hardcore. To appreciate towns like that you have to be from them.
posted by Huplescat at 3:39 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Straightener: "

Kanye Shrug!
7:12 PM Mar 20th via Twittelator
"

Kanye shrug. That's awesome.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 4:35 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


my ex-girlfriend, a rich, Caucasian investment banker at Goldman Sachs, showed up and provoked them to fight each other.

Was she shorting shorties?
posted by benzenedream at 4:36 PM on March 25, 2010


Article says that the police believe the few attacks are unrelated to the flash mob. So the whole article sounds rather sensationalized. Also, do we ever use the word "mob" for a non-violent group?
posted by asfuller at 3:08 PM on March 25


Well, not necessarily non-violent, so much as wandering little beasties who don't attack you until you enter their aggro range. Also, they're individuals, not a group.
posted by symbioid at 4:41 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The good news is, no matter how violent they get,they can't be dumber than the original, all-white-hipster "flash mobs".
posted by signal at 4:48 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bill Wasik, a senior editor at Harper’s who is credited with introducing the notion of a flash mob in 2003, said he was surprised by the new focus of some of the gatherings.

Mr. Wasik said the mobs started as a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity and big gatherings to temporarily take over commercial and public areas simply to show that they could.

“It’s terrible that these Philly mobs have turned violent,” he said.
I'm honestly shocked that he's surprised that these things could be, well, confrontational in nature. I mean DUH. He seems like someone who thinks the world and internet are a giant wonderful playground full of people who don't have to worry about anything. It's like if there were people who envisioned the internet in the late 80s/ early 90s and acting surprised about porn and spam or something.

I mean look at the Best Buy flashmob done by improve everywhere. How do you think the employees felt about that? It could have been a huge opportunity to steal a TON of stuff, and would have been very intimidating for people who actually trying to work there. That doesn't mean people shouldn't have done it.

This mostly sounds like the behavior of bored teenagers, rather then anyone trying to change anything, but the potential as a means of protest is pretty high up there in the list of possibilities.

Plus how violent were these things anyway? Right in the middle of the article we get this:
Ms. Yanoff added that libraries and after-school programs had been reduced and a program for youth offenders had been cut sharply. On Friday, officials said, two preteenagers assaulted a woman as part of a violent game called “Catch and Wreck,” in which children pick out people who appear homeless and then beat them and take any money they have.

The police, who say these assaults are unrelated to flash mobs, arrested an 11-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl in the attack.
That's pretty horrible, but if those attacks were unrelated to the flashmobs, why is it in the article? That there was any violence at all is pretty unfortunate, though. It would be interesting to see what the reaction would be

Also, look at this:
“We definitely need more jobs for kids, we need more summer jobs for kids, we need more after-school programming, and we need more parent support,” said Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a children’s advocacy group in Philadelphia.

Ms. Yanoff added that libraries and after-school programs had been reduced and a program for youth offenders had been cut sharply.
So, if the city ends up with more after-school programs and what not, then couldn't it be said that the flashmobs actually worked? As in, they will have ended up making things better for the people involved? Of course Philadelphia has been having a huge budget crunch lately. There may not be any
posted by delmoi at 4:52 PM on March 25, 2010


Sure, the soda tax will fund all those after-school programs and midnight basketball leagues. And staff the police department, fire department, parks and rec...
posted by fixedgear at 5:09 PM on March 25, 2010


There's not a double standard for everything.

Pretty sure there is for this.
posted by liketitanic at 6:38 PM on March 25, 2010


FRANK RIZZO!
posted by Trapped Vector at 7:26 PM on March 25, 2010


(And the idea of a few years ago of offering free WiFi across all of Philadelphia looks even more absurd now.)

How is free wifi in any way related to this?
posted by afu at 9:01 PM on March 25, 2010


I thought Greek Week came early this year...
posted by TSOL at 10:06 PM on March 25, 2010


What happened to that free WIFI? I remember in 2006 I was trying to hook my dad (who has never used a computer) up with some free wifi and a cheap laptop (before netbooks) to no avail.

I remember Mardi Gras back in say 2001 (I suck at dates) where people just showed up on South Street (because where else is there to go in Philly?) and it turned into a full scale riot. They put up those barricades along the sidewalk and all they did was trap people up against them as the crowd surged. People threw glass bottles for no reason. I saw people rock a news van until it was repeatedly slammed up against a telephone pole. I don't really know what that story has to do with this except that these "flash mobs" sound pretty innocuous.

And the shop owners can shut up. People go to South Street just to wander around. I used to drive with friends from New Jersey just to wander around and look at tattoo and piercing shops and at most I'd buy studded belt or a rock band T.

Also, I will take a group of unruly black kids on South Street over the crusty street kids on Haight Street any day. (I will also take crusty street kids in Philly over the ones in San Francisco any day).
posted by runcibleshaw at 10:18 PM on March 25, 2010


The Boys Are Back In Town.

"... Friday night they'll be dressed to kill
Down at Dino's bar and grill
The drink will flow and blood will spill
And if the boys want to fight, you'd better let them ..."

posted by paulsc at 10:29 PM on March 25, 2010


I'm late to this read, haven't read every comment, so if someone's already said this, all apologies. But just in case the point hasn't been made ...

Young humans (call them kids) tend to be short-wired. If a given situation engages them, speaks to their passion, their humor, their innate curiosity, they're the best damned people on planet earth. But if they're BORED, watch out.

Maybe we need to make our communities a little less boring.
posted by philip-random at 11:45 PM on March 25, 2010


At least it's not being referred to as a Sliverlight Mob.

Sounds like a gang from a William Gibson novel. Didn't they rule The Bridge or something?
posted by rifflesby at 11:48 PM on March 25, 2010


No Child Left Behind!
Mission Accomplished!
etc.
posted by mek at 3:25 AM on March 26, 2010


The future belongs to the Canvas Mob.
posted by delmoi at 9:43 AM on March 26, 2010


I'm way late with these comments because the Daily Beast wanted them, then didn't want them, and the back and forth kind of went past the microscopic window of relevance for these dumb media frenzy type stories. However, as you can imagine, the difference between this and other stuff you've read on this is that I actually know what I'm talking about.

The Straightener's Flash Mob Editorial
posted by The Straightener at 10:06 AM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


CAPS LOCK GUY

heh

"The Straightener", you are the shit sir.
posted by GuyZero at 10:38 AM on March 30, 2010


Essentially what these flash mobs are is the recreation in any part of the city of the critical mass found around Kensington and Allegheny and this is not a good thing. You cannot avoid it because it has no boundaries.

What? (How did I miss this charming little comment before?)

No, really, what? You think a bunch of black teenagers hanging out on South Street is just like Kensington and Allegheny? You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, if you think there's even any superficial connection. (For one thing, the kids in Center City weren't in the middle of a large-scale drug corner.)

But hey, good job on the fearmongering! You should work for the newspapers!
posted by desuetude at 10:57 AM on March 30, 2010


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