Seriously, with the Flash-Mob References


Over the last year, sudden bursts of group crime in Chicago have made headlines–dozens of young’uns “storming” the McDonald’s at Chicago and State, large groups of youth stepping off the Red Line and creating havoc and confusion as they rob nearby retail stores, groups of 15 to 20 young men robbing and beating seemingly randomly selected bystanders. For the most part, the offenders are black and the victims are white.

Now, obviously, group violence is nothing new–gangs, mobs, whatever you want to call like-minded groups committing crimes on others, have been around forever–but the area the crime is happening is different: the Gold Coast,  Streeterville, Michigan Avenue. The kids are presumably flanking the Lake path and hitting up the UC campus—all wealthier areas, usually presumed to be safe.

The media have taken to referring to these incidents as “flash mobs.”

Think about it: The whole concept is like a scene from a bad musical. Bands of inner city kids flood the areas both hoity and toity, stealing not only wallets, iPods and a sense of safety—but they also take from the whities their pop-cultural “Glee” tendencies to form on-the-spot performance-art.

It’s pretty ridiculous. Just go to Google images and type in “flash mob” and you’ll see all kinds of goofy pictures of happy people being dorkuses. Not committing crimes and engaging in violence.

Who the heck started applying the term “flash mob” to this stuff? The over-simplification is a way of reapplying a distinctly “cute” and simple term to something far more complicated, and tying it up with a racially-tinted bow.

Kudos to Mayor Rahm Emanuel for calling the media out on it at a recent press conference, and kudos to the Sun-Times for covering his chastising: “At a City Hall news conference just minutes after the City Council confirmed McCarthy’s appointment, Mayor Rahm Emanuel cautioned reporters to be sensitive to the term, “flash mob” and “what that conjures up.”

The new mayor also encouraged a debate within newsrooms about the question of whether too bright a spotlight is being shined on crimes in the downtown area at the expense of similar incidents in inner city neighborhoods where such crimes of opportunity are commonplace.”

In the same story, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy warned the media to quit abusing the term. Not all incidents of group violence fall into this mob-mentality, premeditated category.

The story says, “The new superintendent cautioned reporters not to lump all of the incidents into the same category. Some are shoplifting. Others are robberies. And on Tuesday night, there was an incident that he called completely unrelated.

One group of young men solicited cigarettes from another group of young men. When one man took out his wallet to pay, a member of the other group snatched the wallet and ran.

‘These three men chased ten men to get the wallet back and eventually caught up to the ten men and lost the fight. That in no way shape or form represents anything that we’ve been talking about,’ he said.

Not all reporters are taking the flash-mob-gone-awry fantasy and running with it. Sun-Time’s Richard Roeper called the media out on the use of “flash mob,” telling them to replace it with the term “wilding,” which, according to UrbanDictionary, is “a slang term that refers to the practice of marauding in bands to terroize strangers and to swagger and bully.”

Hopefully, the staff at Sun-Times, the Tribune and other media outlets will take note. At the Sun-Times, alone, his fellow reporters and editors have used the term in more than 10 stories in just the past week.


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