Philadelphia Cracking Down on Flash Mobs

Friday, March 26, 2010

At least four times in the last year, Philadelphia has been taken over by flash mobs made up of massive numbers of teenagers who congregate in one place at the same time. The gatherings are usually coordinated through text messaging, Twitter, or other electronic means. It sounds innocent, (and indeed, most flash mobs are utterly benign) but lately, the gatherings in Philadelphia have taken a violent turn, resulting in injuries and damage to properties and businesses.

We speak with Philadelphia's Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel about how the city is addressing this problem. And New York Times National correspondent Ian Urbina explains the origin of flash mobs and how they came to be.

Read Ian Urbina's article in the Times, "Mobs Are Born as Word Grows by Text Message."

Below, a more typical flash mob: quirky, upbeat, and decidedly non-violent.


Kevin Bethel and Ian Urbina

Hosted by:

Lynn Sherr

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja

Comments [5]

M P from Philadelphia

There seems to be some confusion regarding what these mobs are. These are not law abiding, civil gatherings of people wishing to make interesting or quirky non-violent public statements. These are not innocent groups of bored teens who run around yelling in the streets. These are packs of uncivilized children who find it entertaining to physically harm innocent people, deface property and instill fear in others. These mobs are not THE problem, but are simply a SYMPTOM of a much larger problem. This is not a race issue. This is an issue of barbarism vs civilization. Philadelphia needs to start thinking in these terms and make some very tough choices.

Mar. 27 2010 04:09 PM
samantha from Bangor Maine

I participate in Flash Mobs of Southern Maine. What we do is meant for fun, and to give the public something to think about. These congregations are not intentionally violent. I think its ridiculous that its been made illegal. You, Philadelphia, are going against the Constitution. We the People, have the right to assemble. Seriously? A gun? I call Bullsh*t. Grow up America, stop smothering your youth.

Mar. 27 2010 01:43 PM

I live in Philadelphia. I was having dinner by the scene when it broke out last Saturday -- people (black and white) were running everywhere, scared. Kids were jumping on cars. You couldn't tell what was happening. I saw a dozen kids surround one car while it was in traffic. At first they were yelling at the the driver -- the driver looked horrified. Then some of the kids started...dancing around. It was just chaotic, a lot of the kids seemed like normal kids, others you just couldn't tell, and then you mix in people RUNNING away from the crowd and you don't know if there's fighting or somebody has a gun. Pull up the past news reports of the flash mobs on youtube when you have a chance. Watch the one about the kids from the flash mob that car jacked a taxi and stole the cab --- or another clip where the mob moved into a parking lot and some of the kids beat the crap out of the people in the car (one of whom happened to be an asst district atty). Most of these kids aren't violent, but it's pretty intimidating to walk down a street and be faced by pure adolescent chaos. Re: the Macy's incident, some woman walked out of the Macy's on her lunch break and some girls from the mob (the bad kids) started pushing her around and then ended up beating her up.

Mar. 27 2010 02:39 AM
JP from London, UK

In a city with a murder & violent crime rate like Philly, this seems like a tragic waste of police resources. "I'm sorry Betty, we can't do a rape kit for you today-- the entire force is busy patrolling for teenaged mac users who might be trying to gather."

This makes law enforcement look like a joke-- and a bunch of bullies to boot. Also, I've never heard of the police getting involved in flash mobs in San Francisco, which tend to be frequented by WHITE kids. Hmmmmm...

Mar. 26 2010 02:17 PM
h. bey from brooklyn

A frustrating and unconvincing take on what might be an interesting story. Isn't there something in the constitution about assembly? And since when do you need a reason to want to join up with other people in public? The original Times story cited one person who had been bruised, and then a completely separate incident where some kids had beat up a homeless person, which it again said that it wasnt related to the flash mobs. That seems a lot less violent than your average parade. It sounds to me like the Philly police are over-reacting and anti-fun. Some surprise.

Mar. 26 2010 09:54 AM

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