Young Black Men, and The Power of Flash Mobs!!

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( We cannot police hopelessness and despair!

There are those who are angered and surprised by the violence of  urban “Flash Mobs” (quickly forming groups of young people using technology to organize), especially crowds of young Black men, descending on mostly White, affluent downtown American cities.  However, if we analyze this phenomenon, it is not so surprising.  In fact, it is highly predictable.  While there is no justification for young Black men to rob and beat people of any race, the activities of flash mobs are easily understandable in the context of recent social history and current economic conditions.

Most of these young men are poor, desperate and hopeless.  They come from broken families and broken communities.  They have been failed by their  schools and by social and faith organizations in their communities.  They  don’t have jobs and many of them will never have jobs.  They live at the  bottom rung of society.  The kind of havoc they wreak among us through “flash mobbing” is the kind of havoc they have lived with their entire young lives.  For them, there is a perverse kind of justice and sense of fairness in their ability to create flash mobs that breathe terror into the hearts of other Americans.

Predictive factors for young Black males participating in the activities of violent flash mobs in Chicago are shown by recent data:

  • This summer, 90% of young Black men in Chicago between 16 and 19 years old are unemployed.
  • Only 44% of Black males graduate with a high school diploma from Chicago public schools.
  • Only three out of 100 Black boys who start kindergarten in the Chicago Public Schools earn a bachelors degree by age 25.
  • 70% of Black children in America are born into and live in single, female-headed households that are usually impoverished.
  • Black males are 6% of Illinois’ population but they represent 60% of the state’s prison population.


The power and strength of a flash mob are in its large number of congregants and in its ability to assemble quickly and to disband equally as fast.  The word “flash” is an allusion to social media — texting, smart phones Twitter and Facebook.  Flash media, an effective tool for organizing a social cause, is the same media that brought down the government of Egypt.  Now inner-city youth are using this same media, but instead of toppling governments, they “topple” Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Old Navy, and they steal IPads and IPhones from defenseless citizens.

The message from the flash mob to us is even more threatening than the mob itself.  That message is, “You can’t control us!  You don’t scare us!  Your police don’t scare us!  Your prisons don’t scare us! We are mightier than you! We will take what you have because you have given us few other options in life for earning similar things.  And most importantly, we will take your peace of mind.  Just as we in our communities cannot ever feel secure, now neither can you!  We are more afraid of continuing to live our lives as they are than we are of you locking us up.  What do we have to lose? For once, we are more powerful than you!”

Flash mobs are not new.  In Black communities across America for the past 30 years, large groups of Black males have attacked others.   In the past few years, jobless, desperate, hopeless youth have rioted in France, Greece, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Tunisia, and Egypt in efforts eerily similar to America’s flash mobs, but on a much larger scale and with politically clear motives and demands.  These youth have taken over business districts, cities and countries and they have destroyed billions of dollars in property while toppling governments.  The same root causes for these youth riots and disturbances in Europe and Northern Africa are producing similar actions, and possibly similar politically conscious attitudes, in the youth of  Chicago, New York City, Charlotte, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and other American cities.

Politicians and the police are working under the false and dangerous assumption that  hopelessness and despair can be policed.  The police are out-numbered and out-maneuvered in this battle of minds, spirits, bodies and technology.   Even as thirty-three flash mobbers were arrested in Chicago this past week, the communities in Chicago were producing a thousand more potential flash mobbers to replace them.  When Black boys are not reading at grade level by the third grade, we are creating conditions for a flash mob.  When Black teenagers cannot find meaningful work, we are creating conditions for a flash mob.  When young Black boys do not have suitable role models and mentors, we are creating conditions for a flash mob.

The best way to deter a violent flash mob is to stop it from forming.  The best time to stop it from forming is when the potential congregants are 2 and 3 years old, not when they are 16, 20 and 30 years old.  The best weapons against flash mobs are jobs, not police with guns; education, not incarceration; and positive guidance and direction, not threats or curses.  Can flash mobs be stopped? Absolutely.  Is America working properly to stop them? Absolutely not.

Welcome to the year 2011 where ethics, sociology, economics, criminology, politics and technology cross!  The flash mobbers are trying to tell us, “You can’t stop us, but with your help, we can stop ourselves!”

Written By Phillip Jackson

Founder and Executive Director      

The Black Star Project                        
3509 South King Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60653
773.285.9600 office
312.771.1010 cell