Most people love the cheerful surprise of being caught unaware in a flash mob, except maybe these guys. Who would not enjoy jovial choreographed people dancing to Journey? Who can hold back the goose bumps when listening to Ode to Joy preformed, seemingly ad lib, in the streets of Sabadell, Catalonia? However, as with most things, there is a dark side to flash mobs. The most notorious case is the 26 December 2013 violent flash mob that took place in the NYC Kings Plaza Shopping Centre (video). Hundreds of teenagers flooded the mall, attacking customers, trashing shops and playing the ‘knockout’ game, according to some reports. These youth riots are not only taking place in the US, but also in other countries in the Americas.
In Brazil, it is called a rolezinho and mostly occurs in malls in Sao Paulo. Most recently, on 11 January, a rolezinho took place at the Shopping Metro Itaquera. Hundreds of teen participants stormed the mall, looted shops and clashed with police forces. The police consequently used teargas, rubber bullets and batons against the teens. Three people were arrested. The Brazilian teen participants claim that these gatherings are to protest against, ‘all forms of oppression and discrimination against the poor blacks, and also the brutal and cowardly daily action of the Military Police in Brazil’. It should be noted that 10 additional rolezinho’s are already scheduled, via social media networks, to take place in Brazil in January and February.
Security forces in both the US and Brazil react harshly to this kind of protest. Mall security in the US is generally not equipped to handle large-scale uprisings; in most cases, violent clashes occur between participants and security forces. In Brazil, the government response is even harsher; the use of rubber bullets and teargas is common practice in dispersing teens participating in a rolezinho. Mall security, as well as government legislation, has been increased in both countries to deal with future uprisings. Certain malls in the US have even implemented access restrictions to unescorted underage persons.
Violent flash mobs are not a new phenomenon, although incidents have been sparser in the past than in recent months. One example is the mass fight which took place in Boston’s Carson Beach in 2011. It should be noted that the recent increasing trend could just be a social media ‘fad’ that will pass relatively quickly; however, there are those who believe that these mobs are part of a deeper underlying problem. There is an ongoing debate about whether these violent flash mobs are legitimate forms of protest or merely violent riots. The events generally involve youths from marginalised sectors of society and participants often have socio-economic motivations for participation. I find it difficult to view these mobs as part of the legitimate political process, but it is still important to note their concerns, if future incidents are to be avoided.
Even if these violent flash mobs are only a fad, the incidents serve to illustrate the necessity for common sense personal security. Personal security should always begin with situational awareness. Being aware of your surroundings could give you the necessary time to remove yourself from an emerging dangerous situation, such as a violent flash mob or a person following you and intending to make you the most recent victim of the knockout game. Remember, always trust your instincts. If someone or something makes you uneasy, avoid the person or leave the area. Finally, when you next witness a traditional pleasant flash mob, enjoy the performance, but always remember that not all flash mobs are friendly.
- For a great 30 minute discussion on How To Stop Teens Engaging In Flash Robs, see this Huffington Post video.