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Flash Mobs: Why Going Along With the Crowd Can Be a Very Bad Idea

Young people using the social media to participate in flash mob activity may think it's just harmless fun. But these gatherings can also result in criminal activity.

When we talk about flash mobs, sometimes we think about the fun flash mobs we see on the Internet.  For instance, the spontaneous song and dance of a large group of people at Grand Central Station in New York was very entertaining, innocent fun and, obviously, it was great to see. There are many similar entertaining flash mob appearances available for viewing on You Tube. 

The bigger issue is when you have a large group of young people at stores or shopping centers such as the Mayfair Mall incident last year where they willfully caused destruction, stole merchandise, and scared customers and employees. The police arrested nine juveniles after 80 to 100 young people stampeded through  Boston Store, knocking over mannequins and racks of clothes. There were fistfights. It was ugly.

When you get a large group of youth together, especially if it’s highly coordinated with the use of the Internet and Facebook, it becomes instantly overwhelming for security, let alone those working in the stores. When large groups wander into the store, you can’t keep an eye on all of them.

Flash mobs are a serious, ongoing issue and parents need to be talking about this problem with their teenagers. In Wisconsin, we have the concept of party to a crime.  Let’s say there’s a flash mob where somebody gets beat up or a large theft takes place at a store. In this day and age, security cameras are everywhere.  If your child is identified or it becomes clear that they are a party to this or has direct knowledge of how the flash mob was planned, there’s an argument to be made that they were a party to a crime and can be charged accordingly.

When these flash mobs occur, a big part of the fun is that the kids take out their phones and video the action. The video makes its way onto You Tube. If you are identifiable on the video, even if you’re not the one throwing a punch or stealing something, there’s a good argument that could be made by prosecutors that you are now party to a crime.

Again, you could be charged accordingly. It could be battery, theft, vandalism, or criminal damage to property.

Just as we advise our clients about how to monitor their kids’ use of cell phones and other mobile devices, we strongly urge parents to take a keen interest in how their youngsters are using the devices. For example, if you see text messages or notice that their Facebook page mentions that a flash mob will be taking place, ask questions.  Don’t let them go to these types of gatherings because nothing good is going to come of it. Make sure your kids are doing what they are supposed to be doing, not taking part in nefarious activities via the Internet or over the phone.

It’s all just one more example of why being a parent is such a tough job. But making the effort could very well save your child from having a criminal record.

About Attorney Mark Powers
Attorney Mark Powers is a partner at the criminal defense law firm of Huppertz & Powers, S.C. in Waukesha. Previously, Powers served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Waukesha County District Attorney's office as well as a municipal judge in North Prairie. He currently focuses in the area of criminal defense, and has handled many cases involving operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, domestic disputes, and drug offenses.

Powers attended Valparaiso University School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate. Prior to law school, Mark attended the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse where he received his bachelor of science in Political Science.

For more information, please call 272.549.5979 or visit www.waukeshacriminalattorneys.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

CowDung September 27, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Does one really have a right to peacefully assemble on private property that isn't their own? Not to mention that the examples given don't seem to indicate a peaceful assembly...
Michael McClusky September 27, 2012 at 04:28 PM
@Bren He wasn't referring to peaceful assembly. I think he was mentioning criminal activity by a mob. There is a difference.
Craig September 27, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Mark: Nice article. One can never predict how a shop owner may react to a flash mob causing terror. Kids need to understand that the owner's fear may cause him to react violently; say by open fire with a shotgun! I don't condone that type of action, but there are people in our society who would do just that type of act and claim self protection because he feared for his life. These mob participants need to understand that they are not only criminals, but could become victims. Eventually this will happen.
Andy September 27, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Mayfair definitely isn't a fair instance to bring forward. The demographic of that mob is very specific and their stereotypical behaviors were expressed. Flash Mobs can be cool and fun. Search Flash Mobs on YouTube. Teens do "Freeze" Mobs where they go to a populated place, and at a certain time they all "Freeze" in time. It's really cool. Same with flash Dancing mobs. These are awesome. Its really cool when you can get a huge group of people together to do something entertaining and simple like that. The Mayfair incident had to do with the African American community. Same with State Fair. That was a violent mob. Those are the flash mobs that you can't get involved with and for most people it is common sense. Flash mobs can be awesome. Just don't get involved with the wrong demographic.
CowDung September 27, 2012 at 04:40 PM
I don't think it's necessarily an issue with demographics--bad behavior isn't race specific. It seemed to me that the author was advising parents to be wary of the types of activities their kids are getting involved in and intervene when appropriate.
oak creek resident September 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Good ol Bren - insert foot in mouth one more time...
Bren September 27, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I agree with Andy and Cow. There have been some amazing flash performances over the past few years, around the world. Opera and dance companies, colleges, etc. I don't think the entire performance art genre of flash should be denigrated because it has been abused by some young people. The Mayfair incident (from a relative who was there at the time) stemmed primarily from holiday-itis. Most of the kids didn't know what to do with themselves once there, it was a small group that became destructive/violent. Otherwise it was mostly loitering and yelling. The State Fair incident was also clearly planned but again it was a small group that actually harassed/attacked people. Compared to soccer riots in Europe, etc. it was not so serious. Let's keep an open mind.
Chris September 27, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Compared to Stalin, etc., Dahmer was not that serious. Let's keep an open mind.
Bren September 27, 2012 at 07:18 PM
This is a joke, right? We are discussing juvenile behavior, not genocide or serial murder. If you can't keep an open mind, at least keep it real. Sigh.
Bob McBride September 27, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Umm...Bren, what happened to your initial post, where you got called out for not getting it, yourself? Keep it real, indeed.
Bren September 27, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Bob I don't see it. I had included some links as well. I don't recall precisely what I wrote, the gist being that flash is an incredible method of expression, the examples cited above are not representative of the entire genre.
CowDung September 27, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I seem to recall something about their right to peaceful assembly...
Bob McBride September 27, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Of course you don't see it. You removed it. They don't just disappear into thin air unless they violate Patch policy. It was apparent that you hadn't gotten the gist of the article, and a couple of folks called you out for it. Just like you're attempting to do with Chris here. How silly and childish.
Mark Powers September 27, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Craig, thanks for the response. Good point you make. Take care, Mark
Craig September 27, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Bren: I think the gist of this article is that kids do stupid things sometimes. What starts out to be innocent fun, can become something criminal with mob mentality. As parents, we should take the time to remind our kids about making good choices. I always told mine that one bad choice doesn't mean your next choice has to be bad. We all screw up at some point, but we pray our kids can walk away when things go south. Sometimes kids perceptions are we're not going to hurt anyone- so it is okay. But they may not be thinking of the person behind the counter who fears for his life, he could wind up killing a kid over a soda and some chips. Sure it is a crime to vandalize a store and steal merchandise, but a death as a result of this would be worse.
Michael McClusky September 27, 2012 at 09:20 PM
@Bren I saw your initial post and you were way out in left field. You missed the point of the article. Just admit your mistake and stop accusing other people of not having understanding.
Bren September 27, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I must have deleted it accidentally, first time for everything. Yes, I firmly believe that flash gatherings fall under the right to peacefully assemble (in public places). Don't denigrate the genre because of a few bad actors. Certainly parents should monitor their offspring if they have proven themselves to be emotionally immature. The more important question, I believe, is what are parents doing to hone productive self-occupation skills? We begin to see the longer-term costs of discarding creativity from the learning environment over the past generation. I don't expect you to agree with me as I approach the issue from a different perspective.
Michael McClusky September 27, 2012 at 09:57 PM
@Bren Well, you accidentally deleted my response too. There's a first time for everything.
Bren September 27, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Is that possible? If so I apologize.
CowDung September 27, 2012 at 10:02 PM
When one deletes a post, it also deletes all of the replies that were posted under it...
Bren September 27, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Yikes! I apologize to all who might have been affected. I'm disappointed that this happened, you know I don't run from a good street fight! ; )
Bob McBride September 27, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Accidentally, my a$$.
Bren September 27, 2012 at 10:23 PM
If I inadvertently deleted a transcendent observation of yours, Bob, please re-post it. I don't want to cheat the world of your insights! ; )
Bob McBride September 27, 2012 at 10:26 PM
No, Bren, there really was no need for me to comment in that particular thread. You'd been thoroughly taken to task and there really was no "street fight" left in it. Hence you "accidentally" deleting the comment. Nice try, though.
Betty September 28, 2012 at 12:26 PM
When was the last flash mob? This is so two thousand and late.
Craig September 28, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Mark; Though this isn't related to a flash mob, it still illustrates that good kids can make stupid fatal errors. My heart breaks for this family and what they will endure in the coming months. http://news.yahoo.com/conn-man-kills-masked-teen-learns-son-063653076.html
Craig September 29, 2012 at 06:28 AM
Ah Yes, The Black Eyed Peas! Thanks for the reminder.

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