Flash mobs and flash points
07/20/2011 10:00 PM
As this column goes to press, the country is focused upon our national financial debt crisis. Failure to cut federal spending, close tax loopholes, and raise the debt ceiling will cause us to slide into a double-dip recession. Or, as the president has called it, economic Armageddon.
Here in Chicago we face an even more frightening social deficit. We are now a multi-cultural city, close to 1/3 black, 1/3 white, 1/3 Latino with about 1/20 Asian and other races filling in the gap. Under these circumstances, white supremacy and a wealth “color gap” cannot continue.
The greatest gap is between African Americans and whites. The segregation index for these racial groups is 81, meaning 81 percent of us would have to move to create communities that have the same population mix as the entire city and the metropolitan region.
In Chicago we live separate and unequal. The black unemployment rate is twice that of whites (even as high as the white unemployment is in this recession). In ghettoes, black male unemployment is more than 40 percent. Blacks outnumber whites in jail by staggering numbers and there are more Latinos than whites in jail as well.
These well-known social conditions breed anger and lawlessness. And so we now have black “flash mobs” attacking whites in the Loop, on public beaches along the North Side, as well as throughout the River North and Lakeview neighborhoods.
The term “flash mob” originated when college-aged kids would converge on a spot like Grand Central Station in New York
and do seemingly-impromptu performance art.
But now, the term is being applied to violent groups. For several years, roving groups of black teenagers have attacked folks on the South and West sides of Chicago as far out as Oak Park.
These young folks in gangs and flash mobs are not afraid of the police. They attack and steal quickly — they are gone long before the police arrive. They just move on to another spot for their next attack. The beatings of victims can be brutal.
Special police units have some effect but not much. Many of these folks in gangs and mobs have been to juvenile or adult prison before. They know the drill as well as the police and prosecutors and don’t fear them.
In the long run, we have to provide better education, jobs and hope to quell their anger. In the civil war, Lincoln said that as a nation we couldn’t live half slave and half free.
In Chicago, we can’t live half rich and half poor either, divided by the “color gap.” Particularly, because the color of your skin can predetermine which group you’ll be in, a lot of youth are “mad as hell” and won’t take it anymore. This doesn’t excuse their crimes, but allows us to understand some of the causes which could be eliminated.
The black middle class still suffers violence and criminality even more than whites. They are closer to the angry youth who strike out against anybody. Not enough of us know or care about their plight.
Flash mobs are a manifestation of the flash points of racism and poverty that still persist in 21st century Chicago.
Good policing can help protect us and put real criminals away. But we need to end segregation in housing and jobs, improve education, narrow the wealth gap between rich and poor, and grow the economy for everybody.
We have to lessen desperation and the anger that follows bad education, unemployment and the color gap. Only by eliminating flash points of misery and poverty will we end flash mobs in our own neighborhoods.
Only when we close the social and economic gap in our city and metropolitan region will we avoid our own social Armageddon.