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Flash mob attacks: Rising concern over black teen involvement

From Milwaukee to Philadelphia to Chicago, officials are enforcing curfews and requiring chaperones for teens, after several flash mob attacks allegedly involving black youths.

By Staff writer / August 9, 2011

In this March 20, 2010 file photo, young people fill South Street during a flash mob incident that involved thousands and closed the street to traffic from Front Street to Broad in Philadelphia.

Laurence Kesterson/The Philadelphia Inquirer/AP/File

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State police are roaming the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee, looking for teenage troublemakers. Philadelphia is stepping up enforcement of a curfew for teens in the Center City business district. Chicago police have beefed up patrols along the city's "Miracle Mile" district in response to recent teenage "flash robs," some which police say were orchestrated via social media.

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What connects the three city crackdowns are teen-perpetrated crimes that are part opportunistic, part thrill-seeking, and, some residents fear, part racially motivated: dozens of black teenagers collectively targeting, and attacking, white people they don't even know. Resentment fueled by dogged segregation, poor unemployment opportunities for young black men, and historic inequalities may all be playing into an atmosphere of racial discontent, sociologists say.

"[Mob violence] certainly doesn't seem to be a national problem, but [police are indicating] there's now reason to believe that it could potentially emerge as a problem," says Sean Varano, a criminologist at Roger Williams University, in Bristol, R.I.

On Monday, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said he would add street patrols and start enforcing a 9 p.m. weekend curfew for 13- to 18-year-olds for the Center City arts and shopping area. He took the step after a series of incidents over the past two years, including two in the past two weeks, in which black teens beat up on their victims, who were primarily white.

In a message Monday to the mob suspects, Mayor Nutter, Philadelphia's third black mayor, said, "You have damaged your own race."

"These are majority African-American youths and they need to be called on it," the head of Philadelphia's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, J. Whyatt Mondesire, told the Washington Times.

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