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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.

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"The black kids at the fair started by beating up each other, police said, and at closing time they turned that rage on whites outside the gates," writes Journal-Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl. "This newspaper normally avoids mentioning the race of people involved in crime, unless it's part of a description to help apprehend someone at large. But this incident, along with the looting and racially motivated beatings in Riverwest last month, has forced the issue."

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In Milwaukee, stark racial segregation and a growing income gap between blacks and whites, exacerbated by the poor economy, may have contributed to the tension at the state fair on Thursday, suggests Stephen Richards, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, in Oshkosh.

"We have such a high unemployment rate for teenagers in Milwaukee, so you've got kids that have enough money to get into the state fair, but maybe they ran out of money to entertain themselves," says Professor Richards. "So you might have teenagers standing around and feeling dejected … and maybe seeing other young people that do have money. I think there is resentment, and this has happened historically in America: hot summers, high unemployment, poverty lead to problems."

Criminologists are quick to note that youth crime on the whole is at a 40-year low, and that the recent mobs pale in comparison to race riots like those in the '60s and early '70s and the Rodney King riot in Los Angeles in 1992.

Yet the racially charged mob attacks, to some, may serve as a warning of deeper and intensifying problems in the black community, including a growing divide between poor and middle-class blacks.

"It is not unlikely that future violence in the cities would look more like flash mobs and less like the urban riots of the 1960s," Walter Russell Mead, a humanities professor at Bard College, at Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., wrote on Sunday. "Those riots targeted Black neighborhoods, Black owned stores and much of the property destroyed in the riots belonged to Blacks; any new trouble would likely be more effective at spreading the pain beyond the inner city."

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