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Flashmob Hysteria
Philadelphia’s Declaration of War on Black Youth

by George Ciccariello-Maher

But even those who recognize the roots of distant rebellions are far more hesitant about upheavals closer to home. Philadelphia is currently in the grips of a bout of mob hysteria at least as virulent and far more racist than the backlash underway in London, to which the media, the police, the city government and the public have all contributed, and yet few have dared to call it what it is.


Steady Mobbin’

In Philadelphia as in London, to use the term “mob” is to tar one’s opponents as dangerous, unruly, irrational, criminal, and apolitical. In most cases, it is also deeply racist. Like the term “gang,” “mob” has its roots in movement, in “mobility,” and it evokes a deep and abiding fear of the uncontrolled movement of the poor and dark-skinned. As we well know in this era of ostensible “globalization,” there are those who are authorized to move: tourists, executives, commodities, and financial flows. And then there are those who are not so authorized: the poor and largely racialized masses who find themselves ever more penned-in, confined by force and economics to the urban wastelands known as ‘slums’ that so many have, for good reason, compared to concentration camps.

Those daring or desperate enough to break through this 21st-century apartheid have been and will continue to be smeared as “gangs,” “the rabble,” and especially “mobs,” but with resistance comes the refashioning of the master’s weapons. In the U.S., this reappropriation has been carried forward most visibly in hip-hop where, from Mobb Deep to Crime Mob, from Ice Cube’s to Lil Wayne’s versions of “Steady Mobbin,” this elite slur has been taken up by its victims and resignified as an expression of popular solidarity, of resistance, and of the indomitable strength that comes in numbers (the one strength that tends to be the exclusive domain of the poor).

But if resistance breeds appropriation, it can eventually lead as well to reabsorption into the dominant culture, to which even slurs as potent as the ‘mob’ are not immune. Thus it was with the “flashmobs” that began to pop up eight years ago, whose choreographed spontaneity was quickly reduced to a purely ritualized aesthetic. Howie Mandel’s TV show Mobbed and AT&T’s most recent ad campaign are but the logical conclusion of an already empty form. But when this cleanly-picked carcass was taken up more recently by young Black people in Philadelphia and elsewhere, who injected the term “flashmob” with a spontaneity it had never enjoyed, all hell was bound to break loose.


Our FreeATL comrade Aimee wrote this, the analysis and anger are dead-on. She is the first person to publicly make these critiques, and will probably be feeling some heat. For context on BLOCS and the Red Dog police unit, see this article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and on CW see this article.

Why RedDog disband and Copwatch APD settlement are NO victory for Blacks

I have recently found my email revealing lists of white leftists and their liberal POC counterparts celebrating two “victories” that I find to be not only insulting but a show of the overt complacency that rules white progressive politics in Atlanta.

The first is the disbanding of the Red Dog unit about a week ago for which BLOCS took credit. There has still been no open dialogue about the real reason that Red Dog was dissolved at this particular time.The victory was claimed in a way that did not challenge the Atlanta Police Dept or draw attention to the white-supremacist power structure that forced the end of Red Dog. When the Red Dog unit murdered 92 yr old Kathryn Johnston, the community responded strongly in anger and pain and no action was taken; when they raided our neighbors home in the West End, broke a Black man's nose and drug him down a long driveway as his children watched, neighbors reacted and still no action was taken on the part of the Atlanta Police Department. However, the raid on the Eagle bar in 2009 proved what I and all Black and Brown folks know all too well, that white people are a protected class to which the city had to award reparations at the first sign of mistreatment.As a queer woman I must press that despite the bar's role as a space for gay and leather culture to thrive, the “we are not the criminals” rhetoric used by the LGBT folks in defense of the Eagle raid victims, not only isolated queer people of color, but made it clear that the white identities of those raided felt challenged by the police's actions against them, and that the lawsuit that followed was in part a way to once more reaffirm their whiteness in the political and social sphere. In the end Red Dog made the error of treating the elite, white patrons of that bar the same way Black folks are treated daily in Atlanta, and for that it had to be disbanded, not because of Kathryn Johnston or the millions of other Black folks that the taskforce has brutalized and murdered in the past couple of decades.

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