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Mercredi, 23 Novembre 2011 19:43

'Flash Robs': Trying to Stop a Meme Gone Wrong

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Many different types of crowd disturbance have bubbled up during 2011, but perhaps the oddest category has been the “flash mob robbery,” or “flash rob.”

It’s a fad that started in Washington, D.C. back in April, when around 20 people filed into a high-end jeans store in Dupont Circle and quickly made off with $20,000 in stock. Since then, the practice has spread — Dallas, Las Vegas, Ottawa, and Upper Darby, Pa. have all reported incidents since then — though the targets have gotten a bit more downscale, with most of the thefts taking place in convenience stores.

The latest crowd theft took place Saturday night at a 7-Eleven in Silver Spring, Md., and it fit the familiar pattern. Kids pour into the store, calmly help themselves to merchandise, and then stream out again:

Incredibly, in a poll taken in August, the National Retail Federation reported that a full 10 percent of businesses surveyed had experienced a “flash mob”-style theft.

Because many of these crimes remain unsolved, we don’t really know much about who these kids are, and how they get together. In Upper Darby, after around 40 teens hit a Sears at a shopping mall, the police were able to arrest 15, and the superintendent said they told him the event was planned out “earlier in the day on a social-networking site.”

In Germantown, Md., though, after a similar-sized mob hit the 7-Eleven there, cops later determined they had planned the heist while they were all together at the county fair.

It’s no surprise that the Drudge Report on Monday morning placed the Silver Spring incident at the very top of the well-trafficked page.

Conservatives have been agog at this mini-trend, with some of them seeing the thefts (most of which have involved African-American teens) as representing the specter of black insurrection. “‘Flash Robs’: Are They The Race Riots of the Internet Age?” asked the Christian Science Monitor in August, in a story about right-wing fears. (One of its subjects, John Bennett, wrote that the robberies had an “obvious racial aspect.”) The site offers a useful roundup of the robberies and other violent mob incidents.

“I find these crimes to be particularly galling,” writes the anonymous compiler, “because they’re indicative of societal dysfunction, rather than an individual pathology.”

But what, exactly, is that dysfunction?

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