How to stop the “flash mob” mentality

Two weekends ago, Philadelphia’s South Street residents, merchants and community suffered from yet another “flash mob” incident, where bands of teenagers summoned each other via cell phone text messages and social media Web sites including Twitter, Facebook and MySpace to hang out and get together.

But as it’s happened in the past,  it was way more than just “hanging out.”  Many of the teens became agitated, some became violent and all became essentially out of control, according to witnesses who told their stories to news reporters from The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News. Witnesses said they have been menaced and that the mood of the growing crowd was worrisome.

This is the fifth episode of such behavior here in Philadelphia since December and it’s got to stop.

Image credit: ©

Last weekend, Mayor Michael Nutter, accompanied by his wife and family and a large contingent of city police officers, went down to South Street and helped take back the street from the teens who have caused all the commotion, according to The Inquirer. It was great to see Nutter there, taking decisive and symbolic actions to help residents and business owners. It was confidence-inspiring to see him there on a Saturday night, walking along the street and taking in its sights and sounds with the rest of South Street’s visitors. His presence, and that of the police, seemed to keep away the teens who had caused the previous problems.

The only problem with this method for bringing calm to a volatile situation is that Nutter probably isn’t planning to spend every Saturday night walking with his family on South Street.

So we have a better idea.

Let’s go back to the days of the Scarlet Letter, when people who committed crimes had to pay penance in a very public way.

For every teen and young person who is arrested by the police in the event of unacceptable and violent behavior at any future flash mob gatherings, upon conviction on their charges — from reckless endangerment to assault to curfew violations or whatever — they’ll have to return to South Street in the daylight as part of a clean-up crew to clean up the mess left by the flash mob crowds.

And if that’s not enough, they’ll also have to wear the proper clean-up uniform — a bright T-shirt emblazoned with the word, “MORON,” across its front and back.

Because if they are stupid enough to think that they can do whatever they want, wherever they want, to whomever they want, then it’s time to make them feel as stupid as they really are.

But even that’s not enough, perhaps.

Many critics of the flash mobs have been arguing that the parents of these teens need to be held responsible as well. The critics argue that the wayward and irresponsible teens are apparently not getting enough guidance and structure at home and that they’re being allowed to act out as part of flash mobs because no one at home is doing enough parenting.

To those parents whose kids are running amok as part of flash mobs, they too can come and wear their own special T-shirts while their kids are cleaning South Street as part of the work crews. The message on those T-shirts? How about “PARENT OF THE MORON” in bright letters?

Yes, it’s ridiculous, but so are bands of teens who think they can disturb and threaten others without consequences.

City officials are fed up with the behavior of these kids and it’s understandable.

The flash mobs have disrupted business in downtown restaurants, bars, stores and coffee shops. They have caused law-abiding citizens to change their plans and stay out of the downtown where they want to relax, enjoy and gather with friends on a weekend night.

This has got to stop, and the city needs to continue to address it. We commend the city for its actions so far and if the city needs sponsorship for the T-shirts, give us a ring here at

This is definitely a case where losing a city’s soul to a bunch of out-of-control, violent and irresponsible teenagers is certainly not an option.