Philly’s Flash Mob Ghouls Aren’t Most Kids

Instead of roaming the streets this summer, many are studying for the SATs

If not for Cliff Lee and the Phillies, all we’d be talking about is our recent glimpse of the Apocalypse. We’re on safe ground with Cliff Lee. Dude’s the major rocket ride of our summer. Say his name. We smile. And the Phils just took two from the Bosox, which is sweeter than honeydew in Fairmount Park.

But then there’s our dark side. We had a recent glimpse of what the End Days might look like (not in the visage of Michele Bachmann, though the notion of a President Bachman does conjure up the quiet certitude of Canada), but in the clusters of dead-eyed ghouls that whipped through our city wreaking havoc and breaking bones.

You read the news stories. It was ugly, it was scary and it made us afraid—not just for our own true blood, but for the future lifeblood of our city. Let’s be unequivocal about two things, shall we? 1) Anyone who runs through our city maiming innocents should be rounded up and sent to suffer a thousand cruel winters in a lonely and soulless North Dakota prison cell with a 300-pound, steroid-pumped roommate with a bad temper. Justice should be swift and unrelenting. 2) We owe it to ourselves, to our neighbors and to the people we bump up against every day, to keep one crucial fact top of mind: The dead-eyed ghouls who ran through our city’s streets represent no one: no race, no class, no age group, no neighborhood, no nothing.

They are soulless.

They don’t belong to us.

At Mighty Writers, where I work, kids in the very same age group as the dead-eyed ghouls are showing up at 9 a.m. sharp these hot summer mornings for SAT instruction. Instead of sleeping away their summer days, they’re filling in sample tests, learning the tricky language of standardized testing and studying vocabulary words that will boost their scores. They pick a book off our shelves to read when they get home.

I see kids like them every day, year round. Yes, of course, they’re fighting to make sense of things—you know a kid who isn’t?—but they’re looking for a future and a path that will get them there. Through the pursuit of the prize alone, they grow in self-esteem every year.

The ghouls who make the headlines live on another planet; they are no more representative of Philadelphia than grown-ups who use code words like “animals” and “jungle” and still insist they bear no prejudice; no more indicative of who we are than those who hide behind fake names, like Klansmen behind sheets, to post racially tinged and sometimes outright bigoted comments to stories in the Inquirer and Daily News and on this website.

Every city has its losers, and we have our share. But like the losing Phillies of yesteryear, they are no longer relevant.

It could be a very hot summer. But the thing to keep in mind is this: When the going gets the toughest, real Philadelphians know the only lasting joy can be found on higher ground.

Tim Whitaker ( is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.