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Mitchell: Flash mobs should be stripped of their Facebook accounts

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Updated: May 5, 2013 3:08PM

Putting more cops on foot and bike patrols on North Michigan Avenue to deal with mobs of unruly black teens may discourage the next flash mob at that location.

But what about State Street?

Navy Pier?

Foster Avenue Beach?

Or the hundreds of other public places outside the ’hood that could be invaded by large groups of disrespectful teens.

According to the Chicago Police Department and city officials, last weekend’s chaos was orchestrated on Facebook and Twitter and involved about 400 teens. Although there were no reports of robberies, assaults or property damage, the teens ran up and down the streets bumping people on sidewalks and fighting with each other.

Police eventually arrested 17 people. Two of the detainees were 18 and older; the rest were juveniles.

In a separate incident, Stephanie M. Hosch, 18, and 10 other juveniles are accused of attacking a woman on a CTA Red Line train and taking her purse.

Hosch was charged with battery, and two of the juveniles were charged with strong-armed robbery. Although they were not a part of the same mob, these girls were apparently of the same mindset as the teens who took over the Mag Mile.

Still, it is the first group that I find most alarming. All it took was a message on Facebook or a tweet to bring together hundreds of teens for the sole purpose of causing havoc.

Because of technology, teens can organize with the push of a button.

For instance, in 2006, Facebook helped create a groundswell of support for six black teenagers in Jena, La., that became known as the Jena Six. In 2007, an estimated 20,000 protesters from across the country flocked to the small town to protest the arrests of six individuals. The case involved nooses being hanged from a tree, and clashes between white and black students.

In 2011, social media was credited with lighting a fire under law enforcement in the Trayvon Martin shooting case.

Martin was killed when George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, confronted him in the gated community where Martin’s father lived. Zimmerman claimed he was attacked, and fearing for his life, shot the unarmed teenager. It took an online campaign that sparked nationwide protests before authorities in Florida arrested Zimmerman. The case is now slowly winding through the court system.

But increasingly, teens also are using the Internet to bully and promote inappropriate or dangerous behavior.

Recently, I heard from a parent outraged over videos that adult males were posting on YouTube of young teenage girls. While not pornographic, the girls might as well have been dancing at a strip club.

“These girls can’t be any older than 11 or 12,” the parent complained.

All a bootleg videographer has to do is tell one teen that he or she is going to be featured in a music video and because of social media, hundreds of other teens will show up for the video shoot.

The teens causing a disruption on the Mag Mile last weekend were brought together in a similar way.

Although the teens were charged with one count of misdemeanor reckless conduct, I don’t expect them to make more than one court appearance before they are cut loose.

What will be the lesson in that?

Instead of taking resources from areas struggling to reduce violent crime to deal with this problem, police should be empowered to impound devices that were used to cause the disturbance.

Teens involved in disruptive flash mobs should also be stripped of their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Smartphone and email accounts for a period of time.

Make them communicate the old fashioned way. Maybe then, they’ll take a moment to think for themselves instead of blindly following a tweet.

Because of the size of the crowd, anything could have happened. The situation could have easily escalated into a police-involved shooting or an innocent bystander could have gotten hurt.

Obviously, these teens had a lot of time on their hands and no plan about what to do with it.

But adults can fix that.

As part of their punishment these rambunctious teens should have to use their Internet skills to organize a clean-up campaign in their own neighborhoods.

That ought to keep them out of trouble.

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