|November 8, 2013|
Previously published on November 5, 2013
Beginning in 2009 municipalities such as Philadelphia and Cleveland encountered robberies, vandalism and violence at the hands of "flash mobs". What are "flash mobs" and what should be done to ensure that "flash mobs" do not endanger or victimize citizens in municipality or community?
The term "flash mob" is best described in a 2006 Harper's Magazine article by Bill Wasik, who described a "flash mob" as a new form of performance where a group of people would convene for a short period of time in an enclosed space (he also claims to have invented it).1 Although originally intended to describe an artistic expression the term now unfortunately brings to mind incidents of protest, violence and destruction.
Residents of Cleveland and Philadelphia, and other cities large and small, have experienced the terror that "flash mobs" can create. Beyond the property damage and bodily injury "flash mobs" present, they can also create a cloud of uncertainty, fear and panic in a community. Certain municipalities, such as Cleveland, have stumbled in their attempt to thwart the dangers of "flash mobs", while others like Philadelphia have implemented successful strategies. Fortunately, there appears to be effective and cost efficient ways to reduce the threat of a destructive "flash mob".
While the city of Cleveland attempted to counter-act its newfound "flash mob" predicament, the city's strategy was ultimately flawed since it failed to identify the root cause of the problem. Cleveland's city council sought to criminalize the use of social media tools (such as Twitter or Facebook) to disrupt a public event. Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the proposed ordinance for its vagueness, over breadth and other constitutional related issues. Ultimately, the city council succeeded in its attempt to pass the ordinance; however, their victory seems inconsequential as it, according to the ACLU, "misses the root causes of crime, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of resources.2"
Although the ACLU may be correct in its theory on the general genesis of crime, "flash mobs" appear to be a result of adolescent mischief coupled with poor parenting. Philadelphia put the onus on parents in the city's attempt to undermine the growing presence of dangerous "flash mobs". Philadelphia also began to enforce curfew laws that were already on the books. Mayor Michael Nutter also instituted increased monetary penalties for the parents of those teenagers who violated the curfew laws.3 Once the curfew laws were enforced Philadelphia ceased to have issues with "flash mob" violence.
Although curfew laws could also pose constitutional issues, they have nevertheless passed constitutional scrutiny and appear to be a more straightforward means to combat "flash mobs". Furthermore, most cities already have some sort of curfew law. Elyse Grossman and Nancy Miller, both of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, have studied the effects of juvenile curfews and concluded that they are modestly effective at reducing juvenile crime and victimization; curfew law are also linked to decreases in juvenile traffic injuries and trauma cases.4
Another successful tactic used by Philadelphia was the extension of after-school and late-night programs, providing proper adult supervision. Of course, increasing the police force or extending program hours comes with a cost; these strategies have proved to be effective in eliminating unnecessary violence and harm caused by youthful "flash mobs". Hopefully, "flash mobs" are nothing more than a teenage fad, but if not, prepare by implementing proven strategies.
1 See Bill Wasik, My Crowd: Or, Phase 5, Harper's Mag., Mar. 2006, at 56, 57, available at http://www.harpers.org/archive/2006/03/0080963
2 See Christa Puccio, Update: ACLU Opposes "Flash Mob" Law Proposal, Sentinel (Dec. 15, 2011), http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/flashmob; Press Release, ACLU Ohio, Veto of Social Media Ordinance Is Right Decision for Cleveland, Says ACLU; Proposed Law Was Unconstitutional and Unenforceable (Aug. 4, 2011), available at http://www.acluohio.org/pressreleases/2011pr/2011. 08.04.1.asp.
3 See Dave Boyer, Philadelphia Mayor Talks Tough to Black Teenagers After 'Flash Mobs,' Wash. Times, Aug. 8, 2011, at A01, available at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/aug/8/mayor-talks-tough-to-black-teens-after-flash-mobs/?page=all