Will Fear of Flash Mobs Keep You and Your Kids Indoors?

Will Fear of Flash Mobs Keep You and Your Kids Indoors?

Photo from CTA

As much as I love living in the city, I hate hearing news stories like this:

At approximately 9:13 p.m., [this was Wednesday, June 8, I believe] a woman carrying a baby was pushed down the stairs at a North Side CTA train station.  The incident occurred at the Sheridan Red Line station at 3940 North Sheridan Road, near the Uptown, Lakeview border.  Two black male offenders, purposely pushed the woman and her baby down a
flight of stairs, said police. Then the suspects went through her
diaper bag looking for money, said officials. Source: Chicago News Report

This seems to be the latest incident in the annual early-summer crime wave.

Every summer, as soon as teenagers get out school and the weather gets warm we start to see an uptick in incidents like this. Is this year worse than years past? At the moment, it seems so. 

In January the North Face store in the Hancock Tower was hit by a flash mob theft. While most flash mobs involve a large group of people communicating by text message to organize peaceful and fun singing or dancing, this group of teenagers formed a critical mass at the popular retailer to smash and grab North Face coats and gear. Similar incidents happened at Armani Exchange and Filene's Basement. 

Over Memorial Day, North Avenue Beach was closed for several hours. Officials stated that the closures were due to over-crowding and people collapsing from the heat. But some bloggers conjectured that the real reason was bands of roving teenagers who were intimidating passers-by, threatening tourists, and pushing riders off their bikes.

Earlier this month:

Saturday evening's flash-organized assaults in Streeterville, in which a
group of young men robbed and beat five people along the lakefront and
near Northwestern University's downtown campus, have brought renewed
attention to the groups of roving teenagers who, abetted by social media
and text messaging, wreak havoc in the city's upscale, tourist-heavy
areas. Source: Crain's Chicago Business.

To be honest, I wasn't worried until I heard about the woman with the baby being pushed down the stairs. I hadn't even heard about the flash mob incidents earlier this winter. Not surprising, since I don't usually read or watch local news. I heard about the North Beach and Streeterville incidents, but still I was nonchalant.

I think I am now changing my mind.

Maybe because this time, the story hit close to home. I have often struggled up and down the Red Line stairs with a stroller or a baby, or both. Anytime I travel with my kids, I am distracted -- making sure no one's falling onto the tracks or running into people or getting on the wrong train or answering 5,000 questions about everything we see. I admit I am an easy target.

So yeah, as a parent and a citizen and a frequent red-line rider, especially now that school's out, I am concerned.

Still, I don't think shutting myself and my children up in the house all summer is really an option either. We are hosting an exchange student from Spain this summer and I am really looking forward to showing her all our favorite downtown places - Millennium Park, the Art Museum, the playground next to the MCA (that was Aislin's suggestion), and the museum campus.

Going to the beach is one of our favorite things to do in the summer. If it ever stops raining, we plan to pack a picnic lunch and visit our favorite local beach + playground frequently. I won't let the fear that something might happen stop us from enjoying our summer. On the other hand, I would feel awful if I, or one of my girls, was injured by a mugger.

So what's a reasonable, responsible parent to do?

Here's what I plan to do (your mileage may vary):

When we're downtown, I will engage my city smarts. I'll keep my eyes and ears on alert. If I feel the slightest bit of danger, we'll head home. I'll try to have at least one other adult with me (not always possible but preferable).

When we're headed to the beach, I will use the power of text message to organize my own flash mob. One mom with kids might be an attractive target but a group of parents will be bypassed. If no one else can make it that day, I'm not going to let fear keep us at home.

I will work toward social justice in my own small way in the hope that we'll someday live in a city where everyone feels invested in it's safety and prosperity.

If, god forbid, I am the victim of a crime I will not blame myself or flee to the suburbs. Crime can happen anywhere.

I can only speak for myself, but I'm not going to let these reports impact my summer plans. I'll be careful, cautious and wise. But after waiting six months for the snow and ice to melt so that we can enjoy the beach, the museums, and the parks, I'll be damned if I'm going to let some angry thugs ruin my summer.


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  • Yup, like 9/11, you can't let the bad guys win. I sure do hope to see a lot more police officers on duty down there, though.

  • In reply to jtithof:

    I did see helicopters patrolling above North Avenue Beach last week. So maybe they are stepping up the presence.

  • twopinklines, I like your pieces and I think I've commented on some, but I don't accept how you characterize this level of mindless violence as the "latest incident in the annual early-summer crime wave" like we're suppose to accept it as a yearly right of passage for young savages as soon as their classes end for the year.

    I've lived in Streeterville for years and the level & type of crime activity just in the past couple months has been seen before.

  • In reply to gwill:

    *has never been seen before. my bad.

  • In reply to gwill:

    I have struggled with this. I have lived in the suburbs for the last few years and work full time but during the summer months I like to take a vacation day here and there and bring the kids downtown and see the sites.

    I saw on the news last night one woman walking around at all times with pepper spray in her hand. If something were to happen what would I do with three kids? I just don't know. It really is a scary thing.

    Never been one to be afraid but when you know that your kids are potential targets, not for theft themselves, but if something were to happen all hell starts breaking loose.

    I too hope that the police presence is felt.

  • In reply to Deanne:

    I've never considered moving to the suburbs but if the city truly becomes unsafe for me and my children, I might think about it. Hopefully we are not to that point.

  • In reply to gwill:

    Thanks, Gwill, I appreciate your thoughtfulness about my pieces. I never said we are just supposed to accept it, but it's true that crime spikes in the summer. It sure seems that this year is worse than years past but I don't know...is it?

  • Good advice. Here's what I will do: Do all my shopping and transactions before 2:00 p.m., then stay in. These thugs don't wake up until 2:00 p.m. They are like cockroaches who love the darkness. They "love the darkness because their deeds are evil."

  • In reply to willynill:

    Good idea, Willy. But still -- I'm not going to rush home to be in before 3pm before the miscreants hit the streets.

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