Streeterville Assaults Raise Fears of "Flash Mobs"

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 6, 2011 1:55PM

The assaults of four different men by roving gangs of teens in the tony Streeterville neighborhood Saturday night has put residents of the neighborhood on alert and added fuel to the months-long speculation that these and other criminal incidents in the neighborhood are related to "flash mobs."

Saturday night's assaults started around 8:25 p.m. when a group of 15-20 males threw a baseball at a man's face, knocked him down and roughed him up. In the other three incidents, the victims were attacked and robbed of small electronics like cell phones and cameras.

Business owners in the area have been on heightened alert for months that these assaults and robberies of businesses are the results of coordinated "flash mobs." We've also had readers email us either directly via the tips inbox or directly, asking why there's been minimal, at best, coverage of these "flash mobs."

But the media has been quick to pick up on the "flash mob" narrative in recent months. the rash of robberies along the Magnificent Mile in March was picked up by CBS 2.

"Apparently they’ve been Tweeting each other. They pick a spot to meet and then go as groups to carry out their crimes. It’s all part of a growing phenomenon.

You can see mob robbery videos on YouTube. In one tape, 50 teens are seen entering a St. Paul, Minnesota convenience store. Within minutes they take whatever they want and leave. The same thing has been happening in Chicago along the Magnificent Mile. Sources said Filene’s Basement, The North Face store and Express have all been recent targets by these flash mobs.

“Just see kids, random kids running out of stores,” said witness Miralem Mahmatovic.

WLS AM 890 also tried to tie the Memorial Day closing of North Avenue Beach to flash mobs.

"Webster's dictionary defines a flash mob as a group of people summoned (as by e-mail or text message) to a designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing. Flash mobs also can be organized via social media sites."

Here's how Wikipedia defines a flash mob.

"(A) group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails."

An example of that would be a brief mass dance in a public space. Or World Pillow Fight Day.

So we have to ask, is this really a flash mob? Or is this a case of a group of youths who are engaging in a straight-up mob action? We've been in Streeterville a handful of times in the past four or five months and there are kids hanging out and doing what kids do at that age. The adage "strength in numbers" also applies here. It's easier to catch a single shoplifter or two. But a group of them? Not as easy.

As long as there have been haves and have-nots, there have also been group muggings and incidents like the robberies attributed to flash mobs. We're just not sure that they should be classified as such.