Thursday, June 9, 2011

“Flash mobs” get redefined by Chicago

Until a couple of days ago, I thought AT&T had a silly commercial – the one that depicts a “flash mob” delayed, and a would-be participant made to look foolish because of his inadequate mobile broadband connection.

You know the one I’m referring to, the guy stripping off his trenchcoat and doing a silly dance, only to discover too late that the “flash mob” he was participating in was delayed by a half-hour.

BUT NOW, I can’t help but wonder if AT&T is grumbling about that ad, on account of the high-profile incidents in downtown Chicago that have been labeled as “flash mobs” and are being considered a high priority by Chicago police to crack down upon.

The knucklehead element that populates our metropolitan area has managed to redefine the word in a way that I doubt anyone will ever think fondly about the concept of “flash mobs.”

They probably won’t even think of it in a trivial way, which is the way I always viewed the concept.

For what police have labeled “flash mobs” in Chicago really isn’t what was meant by the people who came up with that term.

IN THE STRICTEST terms, a flash mob is where a group of people suddenly break out into a mass action. Some consider it a display of public art.

You could be walking around the street when, suddenly, everybody around you starts doing a funky dance for a few seconds. Before you fully comprehend what is happening, everybody disperses.

"Flash mobs" in Chicago of late haven't been anywhere near this colorful. Or entertaining. Photograph provided by Denver Public Library.

What makes these acts unique is the use of cellphone communications to let people “in the know” know exactly when they’re supposed to act.

Just like the guy in the commercial, who would have known that his “flash mob” was delayed if he had a decent portable phone service.

BUT IN CHICAGO, “flash mobs” have become a form of crime.

The groups get their signals through their cellphones, then suddenly swarm on the victim – who is walking along when batches of people beat upon him (or her).

Before the person can really get their bearings and respond, the swarm suddenly dissipates – and the person gets to sort through their newly acquired bruises and figure out what got stolen from their person.

The Chicago-style flash mobs have focused their attention on the downtown shopping districts, which means it is likely that the tourists will wind up being the victims. This particular type of nonsense could wind up besmirching the city’s reputation far worse than the Chicago Cubs’ losing ways ever have.

WE LITERALLY HAVE Mayor Rahm Emanuel saying this is a priority, and his new police Superintendent Garry McCarthy saying his officers are now working undercover at mass transit stations and other potential “choke points” in hopes that they can “flash” the “flash mobs” and swarm on them when they try to swarm on a would-be crime victim.

Because the problem for police is that these attacks are so coordinated and quick that the perpetrators are long gone by the time police arrive at the would-be crime scene.

There have been a few stray arrests. But it seems that the mentality has become that so many people get away undetected that it becomes worth the risk that one will get arrested by participating in such an incident.

There are those who are trying to use these incidents to their benefit.

THE ILLINOIS STATE Rifle Association issued a warning to its members saying they should avoid traveling to Chicago because of the chance they will get assaulted by a “flash mob.”

Of course, what they argued is the real problem is that people in Chicago don’t like the idea of concealed firearms. These people seem to think the solution to “flash mobs” is to let them carry their pistols tucked in their waist belt so they can whip it out and shoot anyone they think is about to flash them.

Not that these people want to hear fact. But in these incidents, the attackers aren’t carrying weapons. Which would mean that the person pulling out a pistol would  be committing a criminal act far worse than anything he thinks is about to be done unto him. It also makes their statement nothing more than politically-partisan trash-talk.

In fact, confusion about what constitutes a “flash mob” may well be a sticking point.

McCARTHY ON WEDNESDAY said one problem is that some incidents are being lumped into the “flash mob” category when they’re really not.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported about one incident that was a pickpocket incident resulting in a fight by a person who wanted his wallet back. With some bystanders getting caught into the brawl, it has been mistaken for something more significant than it was, in McCarthy’s opinion.

Which means we may have to take into account the motivations of those people who talk about how severe this new “flash mob” trend is in Chicago. Some people may well be looking to stir up trouble.

Then again, if the whole idea of “flash mobs” being criminal causes AT&T to stop airing that television commercial, then perhaps there is a positive element to all of this. Because that ad really is stupid.


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