Sometimes I have a difficult time considering myself a Philadelphian. For one thing, I was born in Brooklyn. Then there’s the fact that I spent the first half of my childhood living on Long Island, preventing me from developing that unmistakable Philadelphia accent, the same one that makes me cringe whenever I hear it in the drawl of my younger siblings. I don’t say “wooder,” I will never call a lollipop a “taffy,” and I don’t know who “youse guys” are. I do, however, relish in letting the word “jawn” roll off my tongue and straight into my cheesesteak (whiz + onions) clogged heart. Unlike a lot of other Philadelphians (or maybe a lot like, I have no clue) I’ve uttered the phrase “I hate this city” at least once a week since my family transplanted us here shortly after my ninth birthday.
I’ve been saying it quite a deal more in the last year and a half. Maybe you’ve missed all of the news coverage (it’s just recently seemed to go viral), but Philadelphia is being plagued by what the media has dubbed “flash mobs.” And no, it’s not the adorable groups of White people swinging around light sabers, having a pillow fight or silently dancing to their own individual iPod playlists.
Imagine groups of as many as forty teens and pre-teens, some occasionally as young as eleven, stampeding down the sidewalk, surrounding hapless pedestrians and then battering them with punches and kicks fueled by an utter disregard for their victim’s well-being, much less their own. Anthony Burgess must be smirking in his grave.
Now I’ve got a somewhat personal connection to this latest rash of ultra-violence. The AV Club Editor who was attacked and had her leg broken a few weeks ago was my editor when I interned at Philadelphia Weekly last fall. Hell, the attack happened 10 days after she bought me a mysterious, yet tasty, shot on my 21st birthday.
As terrible as Emily’s attack was (along with the others that have occurred in Center and Olde City), most local and global media seem to be utterly ignorant as to the origin of this issue. There’s been tons of talk in the comment section of Black culture blogs (the only blogs where the comment sections don’t just devolve into racist bile) about why this is happening. Some have been claiming this is a result of teens striking back against the police’s unfair war on drugs. Other people say this is all an expression of class warfare, given that the perpetrators all seem to be urban youths and the victims are mostly older, professional White people. All of those theories are making far too many assumptions about what preoccupies the minds of young Black teenagers in Philadelphia.
The “flash mobs” hold their origins in party crews – groups of bored teenagers who, instead of sitting around and complaining about not having anything to do, would instead hit up all of their friends, get a little cash from everyone, throw a party, and then invite other people and charge them for admission. They basically decided to do what people do on college campuses across the country every weekend. The only reason I’m aware of this phenomena is because I have a younger cousin who was in one of these party crews and I asked him to explain the idiocy of his contemporaries.
Technically, this makes me the best god damned journalist in Philadelphia.
Of course assholes eventually ruin all good things; the party crews were no exception. Groups began developing rivalries with each other, they’d try to crash each other’s parties; sometimes there were fights (in a situation I imagine being very similar to a more urban version of the Greasers vs. Socs). The issue came to a big public head when a bunch of these groups rallied their fans and followers to riot on South Street.
Business owners obviously weren’t pleased by the idea of hundreds of kids (race is inconsequential at this point) appearing and destroying their property. It also didn’t help that it started making people nervous to venture down to South Street on the weekends. Pressure was put on the city, the mayor put pressure on the police, and a solution was found. That solution mostly being large groups of Black kids being straight up kicked out of the malls in the city as if that wouldn’t warrant any sort of retaliatory measures.
And that brings us to the present situation – since the start of the summer, groups of kids have been assaulting pedestrians and homeless people in North, Center and Olde City. And it has nothing to do with racism or class warfare on the behalf of the teenagers involved; it’s mostly just pent-up boredom. There’s really not much to do if you’re teenager in Philadelphia during the summer, and being kicked out of Center City’s malls is really just going to turn you loose on the streets with anger added to an already volatile mixture of boredom, stupidity, and youth.
Mayor Nutter has condemned the violence. Curfew for Olde and Center City has been lowered to 9 PM on Friday and Saturday nights until the end of the summer for all citizens under 18. The city government really thinks this is going to alleviate the problem.
As a stop-gap measure for the rest of the summer, this might possibly alleviate the issue for a little while, but it’s going to come back in full-force come the start of the school year when even more bored, stupid and angry kids get together, mad about homework, boyfriend/girlfriend problems, detention, etc.
Perhaps here’s where I reveal my doomsayer leanings, but there’s also the fact that people seem to really think that both the Eagles and Phillies have a serious shot at going all the way this year. I might be the only Philadelphian who doesn’t want to see a championship in this city because I’d really prefer my town not to turn into Toronto or London. We’re sitting on a volatile powder keg and all it’s going to take is one spark. Whether that be a sports victory, another attack which leads to an expansion of the curfew, or a Bernie Goetz wannabe who decides to take out one of these groups of kids before they can harm him first.
Not that I want any of these things to happen, I love this city too much. I love Northeast Philly girls with their wifebeaters and sweatpants. I love that all the suburban kids at Temple are too scared of North Philly to have any real fun. I love that the fine for pissing in the subway station is less than the fine for smoking. I love that people roll blunts while riding public transportation and no one bats an eye. I love that I can get a can of PBR and a shot of Jaeger for five bucks. I love Philadelphia; I just want it to learn to keep it together.
At least until I get into grad school and get the hell out of here.