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|Idle Hands Should Not Be Punished as the Devil’s Tools|
|Written by Lauren Jones|
|Wednesday, 14 April 2010 09:46|
Philadelphia’s “flash mobs” have been the subject of recent media frenzy. Teens organizing online or through text messages have been gathering on South Street and in shopping malls to hang out. A small number of them have violently acted out.
People, even teens, have a right to peacefully assemble — Mayor Nutter, please see the first amendment — and flash mobs haven’t always been violent. To be clear, “flash mobs” have mostly consisted of spontaneous gatherings of people to hilariously dance in M.C. Hammer pants; mimic Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” choreography; protest; and make silent stands. The South Street incidents are an example of flash mobs gone wrong. We’d like to believe that they were not initially organized with a violent agenda, but rather that came about as a result of dozens upon dozens of teenagers converging with no agenda.
Nonetheless, at press time judge Kevin Dougherty found 28 teenagers guilty of felony rioting. Some face up to four-year sentences, despite claims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which were backed by their parents. It is apparent by the judge’s punitive sentencing, and his treatment of the youth and their guardians in court, that he is using his bully pulpit only to teach youth a lesson: Do not participate in flash mobs.
But years of jail time are too harsh a penalty for one afternoon of irresponsible teenage behavior – especially when it is difficult to prove who exactly committed violent acts. Besides, it’s not enough to get tough, the court should look into possible causes for this behavior so it can prevented.
MSNBC reports the mobs are made up of mostly grade-school youth, which supports speculation that these mobs are the result of cuts in youth programs. The mayor’s response is shocking – “It’s not our responsibility to entertain children.” Actually, it is your responsibility as the leader of a city to ensure that recreational programming is available to youth. Maybe the next mayor won’t be so callous.
Even more irresponsible is the media’s reporting. New York Times reporter Ian Urbina’s labeling of the mob as “mostly African-American” is irresponsible. How did race become a factor in this flash mob incident – but no one reported that of the Hammer flash mob, the Beyonce flash mob; the 30th Station Freeze mob; the Whole Foods mob; and most other flash mobs; have been mostly white.
This should not be viewed as a race problem, or a new problem. It is well documented through history what idle hands do when resources are scarce. Some bored people do this, while others do this. It just depends on the environment. The point is keep children busy.
Imagine if you were a teen at the mall when a mob of teenagers started running past. Your instinct would be either to run the opposite direction, or to join the melee. If things turn bad, would it be fair to pay such a high price? And how would it impact your future?
If city officials don’t want to deal with the boredom of the city’s teens, they should at least provide incentives for people to start or continue community-based organizations that will. It’s unfair to burden taxpayers with jails filled with low-level offending teens and even more unfair to ruin a young person’s life for a misdemeanor offense.
Violent riots are unacceptable, but so is the failure of a city to meet an obvious need for constructive activities. Placing blame and ducking responsibility is futile. It takes a village to raise a child. So make Philly a better village by engaging teens of all colors and teaching tolerance in a divided town; not applauding law enforcement for locking kids up.