Philadelphia 'flash mobs': black mayor takes aim at black community
The crackdown on 'flash mobs' by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has put him in the center of a debate about how black leaders should respond to violence within their own community.
As violent mobs of young men continued to wreak havoc in Philadelphia for a second summer in a row, Mayor Michael Nutter has taken a hard line against the roving “flash mobs,” tightening weekend curfews, endorsing stiff “stop-and-frisk” polices, and blasting the mostly black teenagers involved in the violence with fiery words from the pulpit this weekend.Skip to next paragraph
About 50 teenagers were arrested Friday for violating the newly enforced weekend curfew. It is aimed at cracking down on mobs of young people responsible for random attacks on people and property.
The mayor’s crackdown has placed him in the center of a simmering debate about how black community leaders should respond to violence within their own community. On one side are those who admire the mayor’s take-no-prisoners rhetorical style and use of police force, while others say this approach lets the mayor off the hook for failing to address the needs of young black Philadelphians.
In a combative speech on Sunday at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter said that young black men have to stop acting like "sperm donors" and "human ATMs." He admonished parents for failing to supervise and expect good behavior from their children. And he directly implicated habits and styles of some young black men in the city.
"If you walk into somebody's office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied and your pants half-down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won't hire you?" Nutter told the congregation "They don't hire you 'cause you look like you're crazy. You have damaged your own race."
"I am a proud black man in this country," Nutter said in a subsequent interview with the Associated Press. "It was a message that needed to be said. It needed to be said at this time . . . People have had enough of this nonsense, black and white."
To some blacks, this argument – the so-called "politics of respectability" long debated by black intellectuals – as well as concrete action to address flash mobs are welcome.
"Mayor Nutter deserves credit for stepping up and being a leader," said Deneen Borelli, a fellow with the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, in a statement. "Nutter is doing what Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus have thus far failed to do by speaking out against the epidemic of violent 'flash mobs' and rampant, random crime and violence."
But some Philadelphians criticized Nutter for airing the community's problems only when they crept out of traditionally black neighborhoods, where crime and murder rates have soared for years. "What really bothered me was when Nutter fired the age-old salvo that has historically evoked head-hanging shame among black folks," writes Annette John-Hall, a black columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.