. . . young adults have been uniting in order to commit robberies. More disconcerting is the use of social media to organize gang gatherings . . . more here
Street gangs have been around since as far back as Chaucer in 1390 and Shakespeare in 1602, though little was known of the members of those groups (Klein, 1995). almost two decades ago Ball and Curry defined gangs as a …spontaneous, semisecret, interstitial, integrated but mutable social system whose members share common interests and that functions with relatively little regard for legality. (p. 9)
But they were never as spontaneous in appearance as modern day flash mobs . . . were they?
Flash mobs are hardly new, at least if you are using technology time. They were mainstream enough to be covered by a national media outlet in February 2006 when a Fox News affiliate in San Francisco reported 1,000 people meeting at the city's Ferry Building for a 30-minute outdoor pillow fight.
But the synthesis, or morphing of flash mobs and gangs has produced a hybrid that few appear prepared to respond to, and for good reason. The spontaneity and secrecy of the flash mob combined with the no-holds-barred targeted crime and/or violence of the street gang produces a mix that would be hard to combat even with inside intelligence. The instant access and extended reach of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook bring a twist that makes the spontaneous volatility even more difficult to prevent.
The earliest we have been able to find gang-like activity with flash mob-like technology-assisted surprise was in March 2004 when 3 dozen people were arrested for a street fight arranged via an Internet chat room. Two Dallas gangs, after trading insults in a chat room, traded their keyboards for fists and baseball bats and arranged a time to meet and duke it out in real life.
But that action didn't start a trend like the one seen in recent months. The seemingly random acts of the groups highlighted here should be concerning to law enforcement across the country. Flash-mob violence has recently been reported in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
Recently in Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times (and Police Magazine) reported groups of youth were using text messaging and social media to gather at specified locations on the city's South Side, where robbers attacked people with pepper spray. Flash mob attacks were also reported in the Streeterville neighborhood.
On April 28, 2011 in Venice Beach, a man was shot amid a flash mob that was organized around a Venice Beach basketball court on Twitter. According to NPR, Alexandria Thompson used her Tweetdeck to monitor potential dangers (she is on neighborhood watch) and reported to the police when "Venice beach bball ct going up tomorrow," showed up. There was also mention of gang affiliations which also led to her reporting the possibility of trouble to the police.
One store owner observed that "all of a sudden the street was really crowded." Some say the crowd of youths was in the hundreds. Others say thousands. The kids began to jump up and down, and then utter chaos broke out. Some of the teens started beating each other up, while others began banging on the windows of his shop. "They were trying to climb in the windows on top of the people who were dining, so we pushed them out, we closed the doors and we locked the front doors," he said. "Whatever they had in mind, to me, it was like a home invasion."
In April 2011 in Washington, D.C., nearly 20 youths gathered outside the G-Star Raw clothing store in Dupont Circle and filed in together, brushing past customers. Video from the store's security camera shows them marching directly to the shelves of expensive designer jeans and racks of high-end shirts. They sorted through the selections for their sizes and tucked them under their arms, initially behaving like usual, if rushed, customers. Then they all suddenly made for the exit, escaping before police arrived 10 minutes later. In just moments, on a busy street in the middle of the day, the suspects had stolen an estimated $20,000 in merchandise, police said.
According to the National Retail Federation, 94.5 percent said they were victimized by organized criminals in the past year. And 84.8 percent said the problem has only worsened in the past three years.
So what's the fix? It's likely the guarded response will be an attempt to diminish the danger, but is that really a good idea?
Last year, the Pennsylvania Bar Association showed some vision when they designed a mock trial scenario about a group that was "not a gang in the traditional sense, but was a collection of students who were organized by social networking technology . . ."
What do you think?
Ball, R. A., & Curry, G. D. (1995). The logic of definition in criminology: Purposes and methods for defining "gangs". Criminology, 33(2), 225-245. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.1995.tb01177.x
Klein, M. W. (1995). The American street gang: Its nature, prevalence, and control. New York: Oxford University Press.
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