By Chuck Ross
A new study suggests “flash mobs” are launched because of boredom and the desire to “provoke older people and make havoc.”
Described by one youth in a newly published study as a gathering in which “a certain age group of children go … to provoke older people and make havoc,” some flash mobs have turned violent, with large-scale attacks taking place most recently in Norfolk, Va., and Newark, N.J.
Organizers in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, recently canceled the annual Coventry Arts Street Fair because 1,000 young people disrupted the event in “flash mob fashion” last year by fighting and “running at reckless abandon.”
Though many of the mobs are organized through social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, the study, compiled by the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium (KC-AERC), shows that many of the large groups organize through text messaging or word of mouth.
KC-AERC conducted a survey of 280 teenagers and focus groups consisting of 50 youth participants to define and better understand youth flash mobs after a spate of incidents last year in Kansas City’s prestigious Country Club Plaza.
In one incident there, a shooting injured three people. The city instituted a curfew on teens to prevent the large groups from forming.
Generally, flash mobs are concerted efforts of a large group of people that are made to seem random. Some flash mobs include orchestrated dances or other activities. One popular flash mob involved a massive pillow fight.
Some of the reasons cited by youth for flash mob participation, according to the report, are to “express themselves,” “get attention,” “be remembered” and to “get their name up.”
One of the researchers, Hyunjin Seo of the University of Kansas, told the campus newspaper “the majority of flash mobs have been nonviolent, but sometimes they have taken a violent turn, and that’s what concerns cities.”
The curfew instituted in Kansas City is similar to the one put in place by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter after an outbreak of group violence last year in the Center City shopping and recreation district.
Though KC-AERC’s researchers don’t address race in their paper, Nutter, who is black, took to the city’s churches to criticize the violent acts. Most are carried out by black youth who Nutter chided, saying “you have damaged your own race.”
In the Norfolk attack, large group of black youth targeted local newspaper reporters Dave Forster and Marjon Rostamitwo, WND reported. Forster, who is white, and Norfolk police have told WND that the attacks were not racially motivated.
In Baltimore, local politician Patrick McDonough drew controversy when he urged the state’s governor to institute a “no-travel zone” for the city’s Inner Harbor district to combat “roving mobs of black youths.”
To handle the issues faced by cities and businesses in Kansas City and across the nation, KC-AERC researchers offered recommendations.
These included providing youth with safe and accessible entertainment options, dealing with community and family disorder and violence, and facilitating “good” flash mobs. Some of the youth surveyed or interviewed suggested that the city implement programs for underground rappers, talent shows and sports facilities.
Calley C., a Kansas City resident who asked that her last name be withheld, was present at Country Club Plaza the night of the large flash mob and described the incident to WND.
“When I looked down at one point I noticed all these black teenagers dressed in white. Like hundreds of them!
“It was chaos,” she said. “We all wondered what was going on. It looked like a gang. Kids were pushing people in fountains, pulling guns, robbing people.”
According to the witness, the retail stores and restaurants in the Plaza district threatened to pull their businesses if something wasn’t done to control the mobs.
“It’s a Kansas City landmark that’s gone.”
Though violent flash mobs seem to be comprised more of black youth, KC-AERC researcher Brian Houston of the University of Missouri-Columbia told WND that he doesn’t believe race is the main driver.
“I see social class being the main issue,” he said. “The youth in lower class areas are the ones who lack the resources and activities that could provide good uses of their time and potential.
“My grandmother used to tell me that ‘idle hands are the devil’s tool,’ and I’ve found that this applies to all youth – and adults – irrespective of class, race, religion.”