Chicago Media Declares War On Flash Mobs, Mayor/Police Not So Much

from the meet-me-in-the-comments-section-in-five-minutes dept

Flash mobs are an odd sort of creature in the internet age. Normally, we associate them with some creative ways to entertain others or as a way to organize protests big and small. But now the esteemed Chicago media is reporting that several crimes in the Magnificent Mile area of downtown Chicago "have stoked growing fears of criminal teen flash mobs." And who has been stoking those fears?

The Chicago newspapers, of course -- who have declared that these crimes are all due to "flash mobs."

Last weekend there were four violent robberies in the city's famous shopping district, most or all of which appear to have been committed by relatively large groups of people (5-15). One such incident, which has been getting the most attention, resulted in a 68 year old man having his iPad and phone stolen by a group of teenagers. In addition, a new tactic for young thieves in the shopping districts appears to be to flood a store, disperse, and coordinate a mass grab-and-run via text message. This tactic has been noticed for the past three to four years.

The result has been a mini-media frenzy around "flash mobs", even though most of the crimes reported aren't anything of the sort. Most are your standard everyday robberies, occurring in a neighborhood in Chicago where shops and shoppers (theoretically those with money to spend) are located. But four robberies resulted in a couple of press conferences, one including new Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who cautioned reporters not know...make stuff up:
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.
But thanks to this media attention, police are being diverted to the Magnificent Mile, an area with a relatively low violent crime rate, historically. What's interesting is how associations with certain terms can change. Flash mobs were fun. Now, thanks to a local press with an overactive imagination during a slow news week (ah, Chicago baseball teams...), Chicago is beginning to associate negativity with the term, so much so that police are being diverted from truly violent neighborhoods to the shopping district to stave off the fear of unruly teenagers coordinating their crimes via text message and social media. And if the police are reacting this way now, at the start of the summer season, what in the world are they going to do during the festival season, when destinations like the Taste of Chicago and Lollapolooza spring up?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 1:32pm

    Chicago Crime Map

    I should clarify for those not from my home city that the neighborhood we're discussing is labeled in that last link as "Near North".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2011 @ 1:37pm

    Listen, once the flash mobs messed with Billy Corgan's brother - the gloves came off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Nathan Weinberg (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 1:49pm

    To be fair, there have been a lot of these videos lately:

    The media loves this stuff, to be sure, but established modern police strategy, as part of the Broken Windows theory, is that highly visible disruptions of the peace, like gangs of thugs overwhelming a poor shop owner and robbing the hell out of a store with large numbers, need to be stopped lest it create a larger climate of crime and motivate other criminals.

    Whether there are a lot of these incidents or not, stopping them is very important to curb a culture of lawlessness. And to preserve the good name of actual flash mobs, which, while SO over, are harmless fun.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Ikarushka (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 1:59pm

    Indeed, diverting police to relatively safe Magnificent Mile already resulted in loss of life:

    For those not from Chicago, Hyde park is a diverse and fascinating neighborhood on the South Side, home of the University of Chicago, and it is surrounded by troubled areas.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 2:19pm

    Good job chief of police

    Cops come under a lot of legit criticism on this site, so I'm glad be able to praise the chief of police for downplaying, rather than hyping this rubbish. How great to have a rational response for a change.

    Of course it's a shame that the other rational response is beefing up police patrols anyway, because of the cost of the negative press.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 2:27pm


    Very nice find on that. I have a feeling that you're going to be hearing a lot from the folks in Austin and Englewood wondering why the hell police are being diverted to a place as glitzy as the Mag Mile....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Good job chief of police

    "Of course it's a shame that the other rational response is beefing up police patrols anyway, because of the cost of the negative press."

    Well, I'm glad he said what he said too, but recent comments about attacking this "problem" by patroling entry points (trains) for groups of teens that are loud, mocking others, and/or dressed like gangbangers seems wholly unsensible.

    Basically he'd be looking for every group of white suburban kids coming into the city....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    SpacePirate, Jun 10th, 2011 @ 3:24pm

    Snail mobs! We'll use post cards and wrist watches...just try and stop 'em.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    dutybound, Jun 10th, 2011 @ 6:13pm

    flash mobs

    Unfortunately the odds of winning against these mobs is low. (Forget flash. They're mobs.) Why? Because they're being fought in an ineffective manner. Cops showing up after the fact is pointless and will only result in law abiding citizens relegating the city to the mob. Arresting the thugs does little good as they're out on the streets shortly with little consequence. The real solution is long gone in the PC world we live in. Make the thugs afraid to be on the streets. How? the old fashioned way. Burly, angry cops roughing them up and intimidating the bad guys. A handful of punks pulled into alleys and coming out with broken ribs (and the like) with a warning 'don't let me see you on MY street again' would get the message across. I fear Chicago will go the way of many other American cities. Lost due to emasculated politicians and lawyers conceding defeat. Would YOU go to Chicago and walk with your wife and family on city streets this weekend?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 6:20pm

    Finally... a sensible article.

    It's great to see the press finally get the press it so often deserves. Yesterday, deadly cellphones. Today, teenagers acting like teenagers. Makes you wonder why anyone bothers with the "news" anymore.

    It's news like this contained in tightly written posts that keeps me coming back to Techdirt. I'm all for more stuff by whoever the hell this is and less of that Mike guy or that other Tim, who should probably reclaim his job at the koolaid factory.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Mr Big Content, Jun 10th, 2011 @ 6:25pm

    Very Real Problem

    Now you know why Apple doesn’t allow Flash on its devices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 9:29pm

    Re: Finally... a sensible article.

    But wait, wouldn't Techdirt be the koolaid factory according to you? Oh what a tangled web you troll!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Chargone (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 9:57pm

    Re: flash mobs

    ya know, i'm pretty sure we had an article about something to this effect not long ago. the net effect was citizens prefering to take their chances with the criminals rather than be anywhere near the cops.

    to be honest, it would take a LOT to get me to go to the USA. and by a lot i'm talking millions, an incredibly good reason, and bodyguards

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Chargone (profile), Jun 10th, 2011 @ 10:00pm

    Re: Finally... a sensible article.

    see, the first half of that had me willing to hit the insightful button...

    then i read the second half and it leaves me wanting a 'troll' button ...

    but then i'm wondering wheither it's meant to be a joke...

    so confused.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    nasch (profile), Jun 11th, 2011 @ 9:35am

    Re: flash mobs

    Well that is the first time I've seen anyone pine for the days when police brutality was more acceptable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Andrew, Jun 11th, 2011 @ 10:58am

    Your article makes no reference at all to the Mayor, as your title does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Jun 11th, 2011 @ 3:43pm

    Re: Re: Finally... a sensible article.

    I kind of miss my job at the koolaid factory...

    On the other hand, it'll be years before my hands return to their normal, unstained skin tone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 12th, 2011 @ 3:39pm

    Re: Chicago Crime Map


    This is no where near a flash mob. This is a bunch of stupid kids using cell phones and social media to commit misdemeanor offenses. A flash mob is 5,000 people showing up at a mall in NY to see a singer, its 100 singers showing up in orlando international with fans, its Arab spring. This sort of stupidity by news types, as a prelude to banning flash mobs, does not work legally, constitutionally, or even have a chance of working in reality.

    You wrote a great article. Keep it up.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 12th, 2011 @ 4:26pm


    The links do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    MSM, Jun 14th, 2011 @ 12:04pm


    The Sun-Times gins up flash mobs as this summer's threat, while the city's other dinosaur, the Tribune, co-opted the concept during the Printers Row Lit Fest a couple of weekends ago with their "Make Your Mark" stunt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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