Mayor Nutter’s Misguided Flash Mob Mop-Up

Why curfews and jail alone won't stop teen violence in this city

More cops. More arrests. More punishment. Following the brutal flash mob assaults of the last few months, that’s what the public demanded and that’s what the city provided. But that’s just like repeatedly getting a bigger mop to soak up the floods that gush through the gaping hole in the roof. It’s a much better idea to stop spending time and money on a mop and start figuring out what caused the hole and then immediately replace the roof.

The youngsters who’ve been pillaging Center City and attacking townsfolk like drunken rampaging Vikings weren’t born that way. And even if you consider them to be monsters, you must realize that the monster wasn’t Frankenstein. Instead, the creator of the monster was Frankenstein, specifically the scientist named Victor Frankenstein. The monster had no name. Just like to many of us, these kids have no name. They’re just things—thugs, sociopaths, incorrigibles, gangbangers and hoods. But how did they become those things? You think maybe poor parenting (which was by no means the child’s fault) might have at least something to do with it? What about poverty? What about inadequate schooling? And what about society’s lesson of aggression (i.e., warmongering) as the solution to disputes? Garbage, you say. More of that bleeding heart liberal nonsense, you say. Those little bastards oughta be thrown into little jails, you say. Let’s think about that for a minute. And let’s be adults in the process. When it comes to dealing with lawbreakers, regardless of age, criminologists have taught us that, as a goal, we must consider retribution, deterrence, and/or rehabilitation.

Retribution is the exacting of vengeance, the treating of a criminal like he/she had treated the victim. But kids are irrational. That’s precisely why mommy doesn’t choke Johnny after he choked his baby sister when she broke his Xbox.

Deterrence is the sending of a message to the individual to discourage him/her from repeat misbehavior or the sending of a message to potential copycats to scare them shitless. But children are impulsive. So what do they care about future messages?

Rehabilitation is the positive changing of behavior and of thought process. It involves counseling, therapy, education and, when appropriate, job training. And to work right, it should also include punishment such as incapacitation, meaning incarceration or some kind of societal separation, maybe even solitary at times. Early release and other attractive benefits would be available for good behavior, good grades and good attitude. And, by the way, no phones, no music, and no recreational computer use. But extensive victim restitution, both financial and verbal, is mandatory.

I know you’re gonna say that’s not harsh enough. But my response is: I sound like I’m apologizing for these kids and I’m not. What they did was horrible. But we should at least explore why they feel they’ve got nothing to lose. To that, you’ll say shut the hell up. You’ll say I’d be singing a different tune if I had been jumped, if I had been grabbed, if I had been punched in the face, if my leg had been broken. And you’d be right. But on June 25th at Broad and Spring Garden, Emily Guendelsberger was jumped, grabbed, punched in the face and had her leg broken. And those words above were hers, not mine. They were thoughtful and reasonable, not emotional and reactionary. They were adult.

They weren’t grumpy-old-man adult like the Mayor’s recent “Get off my lawn” comment at Mount Carmel Baptist Church when he told the congregation that the youngsters need to take their “hoodies down … ” and “pull … (their) pants up.” No disrespect, Mr. Mayor, but the deacons and the choir weren’t the ones flash mobbing. Furthermore, lecturing about juvenile delinquency isn’t going to change it. You gotta get out of the churches and onto the corners. You gotta stop talking to the grandparents and start talking to the Beanie Sigels, the Freeways, the Cassidys, the Meek Mills, and some of the other local hip hop celebrities who have the ears—and the hearts and minds—of the flash mobsters.

And finally, Mr. Mayor, I supported and continue to support you for a number of reasons, not the least of which was your essential work in impressively bringing the historic President’s House/Slavery Memorial to fruition. But your remark to black flash mobsters—who, by the way, are just a tiny minority among the large good majority—that they “have damaged … (their) own race” missed the mark completely. You and I are descendants of the heroic nine black men, women and children enslaved here in Philly by George Washington at America’s first “White House” and the courageous 316 enslaved by him in Virginia. We are descendants of African kings and queens and also of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and Nat Turner and Phillis Wheatley and Gabriel Prosser. Our greatness cannot be damaged by the misconduct of some of those whose lives are adversely affected by slavery, which gave rise to sharecropping which gave rise to Jim Crow which gave rise to de facto segregation which gave rise to poverty and which in turn gave rise to generationally inadequate schooling. And this is compounded by the existence of a society that teaches children of today to view war as strong and peace as weak.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that these youngsters get a pass. Quite the contrary: They should get their asses kicked, especially that 11-year-old juvenile involved in July’s sadistic assault. But that strong discipline must come from our community, from our cultural organizations, from our rites of passage programs, not from cops, courts and failed jails. They’re just a mop.

We need a new roof.