The televised images of violence and looting triggered one recurring thought in many people— that this isn’t supposed to happen in our civilized cities.
No, we’re not just talking about London, but right here in Philadelphia, as flash mobs have grown more frequent — and more violent.
To deal with mobs — which keep residents barricaded in their homes and visitors out of the city — Mayor Michael Nutter has instituted a citywide curfew. Areas around Center City have been targeted with an extra police presence.
Common sense tells us there will be a drop in flash mobs with the curfew, although violent incidents have still been occurring just outside the targeted zones.
In and of itself, the curfew isn’t a bad idea, but that seems to be the Mayor’s only answer, and that’s the real problem.
It should be obvious that a curfew can’t solve the underlying reasons as to why the uprisings are taking place. But given the fact that flash mobs have been plaguing the city since early 2010, the Mayor has shown himself to be unable or unwilling to address the root causes.
So the problem only worsens.
Curfews Aren’t A Panacea
Curfews are short term, reactive tools of government, a tactic rather than a strategy. While people feel safer — which is important to keep society functioning — the false sense of security that a curfew provides often evaporates when the situation doesn’t stabilize or the curfew is lifted.
They are simply too expensive and resource-intensive to be permanently maintained. Police become bogged down in the menial work of processing curfew violators and contacting their parents (who will be hit with fines they can’t afford), instead of focusing on the real criminals prowling the city.
And that is simply not the most effective use of our crime-fighting resources.
The other downside is that curfews create resentment among those affected — most of whom are law abiding citizens — because an entire group now becomes classified as criminals for doing something that two weeks ago was perfectly legal. The majority are punished for the actions of very few.
Measures which are perceived to unfairly target people based on age, skin color and gender will only enflame tensions, not soothe them. And as a result, people take on the persona of that which they are accused of being.
Curfew aside, perhaps the focus should be on targeting actual crime, and concentrate on arresting actual criminals, (not curfew violators). If the police catch the bad guys, the prosecutors gain convictions, and judges hand down tough sentences, we’d be light years ahead of where we are today.
Here’s the bottom line: you don’t solve a crime problem by making something a crime that is now not a crime.
So why do we do these things? Because they’re easy and make good 30-second sound bites. While the Mayor wants us to believe that the curfew will make everything right, in reality we are left with a city that is no safer in the long run.
Beyond the curfew, what does the Mayor suggest to solve the problem? That parents and children need to "get their act together" and that there will be a "zero tolerance" for this type of behavior.
Some parents absolutely need to get to get their act together, but for many, they are doing all the right things yet are still swimming against the tide. Things that would improve their situation are out of their control, and the person who could fix the problems — the Mayor — chooses not to.
Too bad Michael Nutter doesn’t employ a zero-tolerance policy where it’s needed most: educational failure and businesses fleeing the city.
Solve the Problem
Sure, there is an element in every society that is violent and lawless, and nothing can ever change that. The only solution for those thugs is a life in prison.
But for the majority of others, crime doesn’t have to be a way of life, but often is because of the lack of opportunities, both educationally and professionally. That’s where bold leadership comes into play, the ability to reverse years of decline with real solutions to the toughest problems.
Unfortunately, this Mayor is totally lacking in that category.
As Freindly Fire has repeatedly noted, the core reason for our situation is the horrendously bad educational system, which directly results in the lack of hope for young people.
There is simply no possibility of receiving a quality education in Philadelphia, despite taxpayers spending more than $17,000 per student, per year. Some schools are deathtraps and, incomprehensibly, many sport graduation rates in the 20’s and 30’s — and that’s after a huge number have already dropped out. Despite all the rhetoric promising to turn things around, they have only gotten worse.
When the most basic life skills are lacking, the prospects for a decent job are virtually nonexistent, so many of our youth see the dream of a stable and prosperous life as nothing more than an illusion. Faith is lost.
If young people feel they have nothing to live for, they resort to criminal activity. The youths committing these crimes figure that, before they are thirty, they’ll either be dead or in jail. The "I’ve got nothing to lose" attitude turns them into predators, and law-abiding citizens become their prey.
When education is trumped by survival, everybody loses. But no one wants to fix the problem, instead pretending that more money is the solution. Wrong — it isn’t. Only educational competition — school choice —can turn things around. But it isn’t happening, so another generation will be lost while gutless politicians continue their inane babble which accomplishes nothing.
And speaking of competition, is it any wonder why Philadelphia can’t compete with the nation’s cities that are growing? Could it have something to do with the fact that, cumulatively, it’s the highest taxed city in the country? And that the situation is only worsening?
Under the Mayor’s watch, property taxes have gone through the roof, the city portion of the sales tax has increased 100 percent, pension payments have been deferred, and numerous other taxes and fees have been instituted or proposed. And that’s in addition to what was already a crushing tax load.
It’s a simple cause and effect. Businesses flee the city or refuse to relocate here. The resulting lack of opportunities in turn triggers despair and increased crime.
As the recently released Pew survey showed, residents who can depart Philadelphia do, leaving behind an underclass with scant opportunities and even less hope.
You wouldn’t treat a heart attack victim by giving him an aspirin, since that would only be treating a symptom. In Philadelphia, curfews and feel-good fairy tale rhetoric have become the "cure" but do nothing other than speed up the city’s deathspiral.
Until leaders with a true understanding of the problems — and how to solve them — take control, citizens will continue to be held hostage to terrorizing thugs, and brazen crime sprees will increase.
Whether its flash mobs, riots, brutal subway attacks, or cops in the crosshairs, it’s clear that respect for authority is waning, and no one is off-limits to the predators.
Create opportunity, and you create stability. People with good jobs buy houses, have families and become productive, law abiding citizens with an incentive to keep their neighborhoods safe.
Ignore the problems, and you have a powder keg ready to explode. With nothing to lose, all bets are off — and society takes a hit.
Anything less than real solutions will make flash mobs more than just a flash in the pan, but an unfortunate part of everyday city life.
An accredited member of the media, Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries
and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including
The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick
Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in
Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national
television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]