Some blame the flash mobs solely on boredom, but there’s more to the story.
There were just huge swarms of kids flooding the streets whether the light was green or not,” Eryn Cody, a freshman Spanish major, said.
Cody was present during the latest flash mob on March 20 on South Street.
The recent outbreak of flash mobs has many Philadelphians wondering what is causing all the violence. Is it our city’s economic and social dynamics, a social-networking phenomenon or an outcry from minorities in poor neighborhoods? There seems to be no simple explanation.
“The weird thing was that [the kids] all seemed to know each other, which was strange because there were so many of them,” Cody said, “but they gave off this feeling of unity.”
According to the Daily News, hundreds of teens wreaked havoc on South Street after receiving tweets that alerted them of the gathering. The Internet is a clear catalyst in these large group gatherings. The group has a few persuasive leaders, who can use event invites on Facebook to gather mass amounts of followers.
“With the new technologies available, you can spread things through word of mouth very quickly,” psychology professor Dr. Laurence Steinberg said. Steinberg also said the flash mobs can be credited to “boredom, peer pressure and the thrill of doing it.”
There is, however, another aspect to the flash mobs: race and economic status. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the majority of teenagers involved were black.
“Adolescents’ social networks tend to be racially segregated,” Steinberg said. “If this phenomenon is fueled by social networking, it makes sense that the groups would be racially homogeneous.”
After-school activities in urban schools aren’t always heavily financed. Teens are left without arts and sports to occupy their time, and boredom sets in.
If I hadn’t had hours of dance classes to occupy my time in high school, I am not sure what I would have been doing. Several of my best friends did not get involved in any extracurricular activities and many opted out of the college experience. Those are the friends who started smoking marijuana daily and the ones who also had run-ins with the police.
“When you don’t have better things to look forward to after school or on the weekends, I guess the only way to get attention is to do what they think or have heard is cool,” Julia Naugle, a junior theater major, said. “There’s probably an element of anger there too.”
A stronger police force may be a short-term solution, but as Philadelphians, we need to work to alter the image flash mobs project.
“If kids were organizing in these numbers to do something useful, such as cleaning up the city or helping the homeless, people would think it was pretty incredible,” Steinberg said.
A group of students recently planned a “five-minute freeze” for Thursday, April 1. Participating students were instructed to stop for five minutes on Liacouras Walk and hold something that represents peace. Unfortunately, the five-minute event was canceled, but the idea had breadth and good intentions. Using Facebook as a tool for students to join and invite their friends to a positive event proves social networking can work to help society.
Ignoring the real problem at hand and blaming the mobs solely on boredom is ignorant. More research on the mentality of the mob participants needs to be done before another civilian gets punched in the face for window-shopping on South Street.
Cary Carr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.