“Flash mobs”, a form of performance art, can be traced back 7 years ago to May, 2003 in Manhattan. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it is a sudden, spontaneous gathering of a large group of people, usually in a public space, generally organized by text message or social networking websites. These groups of people usually perform some distinct and obvious act, and then disband just as quickly as they assembled.
In May, 2003, Bill Wasik, who was the senior editor of Harper’s Magazine, targeted a retail store in New York City for some people to gather. This attempt failed, but not the second one. On June 3, 2003, Bill Wasik sent participants to four predetermined Manhattan bars as staging areas. They then received further instructions about the final event and its location as they were waiting – Macy’s department store. Over 100 people flowed into the 9th floor rug department, where they gathered around a large rug. They told any sales associate who approached them that they all lived together in a warehouse right outside New York City and that they were in search of a “love rug.”
Though the origins appear harmless and innocent enough, flash mobs have evolved into chaotic, and often violent, events. In the Northeastern US, it is especially prevalent. Brooklyn and the rest of New York City, Boston, and South Orange, New Jersey have had many violent incidents, including situations where participants randomly attack passersby, fight with each other, and vandalize property around the area.
The latest spree of flash mob violence has been seen in Philadelphia. Just this past Saturday, a large group of kids filled South Street, one of Philly’s hot spots. Four flash mobs have taken place since December, and several people have been injured. One man died of a heart attack. Witnesses say they heard chants of “black boys” and “burn this city”. The Feb 16th incident involved more than 150 kids, who stormed Macy’s while pushing over customers and knocking over displays. All these incidents occurred after word spread through combinations of text messages and Facebook.
Philly police have said that they want to try to get more after-school activities available for kids, as well as take steps to reduce the chances that these flash mobs have to take place. One way to reduce these occurrences is to invalidate the free student transit passes after 4pm instead of after 7pm.
When asked of his opinion on the turn that “flash mobs” have taken, Bill Wasik replied that he only meant for them to be a funny little social experiment. “It’s terrible that these Philly mobs have turned violent,” he said.