Stu Bykofsky: Nutter did well to move quickly against mayhem mobs

Youth mobs cause mayhem along South Street in March 2010. Recent flurries of similar violence led the city to get tougher on curfew.
Youth mobs cause mayhem along South Street in March 2010. Recent flurries of similar violence led the city to get tougher on curfew. (LAURENCE KESTERSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 18, 2011

PHILADELPHIA'S enhanced and enforced curfew is having the desired result. When police presence goes up, crime goes down.

Stunning insight, right?

The question is how long the cops - on foot, in cars, on bikes, on horseback - will remain in Center City and University City. And what happens when they're gone?

I don't know. Cool weather may cool heads. Returning to class may have a civilizing effect, but when we have metal-detectors at school entrances, I doubt it.

Curfew enforcement is a Band-Aid, but Band-Aids stop the bleeding from a wound, and Philadelphia was wounded. The mayor's first aid was appropriately firm, fast and effective.

Yet to be determined is what surgery will be required to cure us of the disease of nihilistic youth who think it's fun to attack and rob people.

Philly is not alone in the frying pan. During the Summer of the Marauder, similar attacks have scarred - and scared - Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Washington and New York.

In our countermeasure, cops stop youths and ask for ID. Hmmm. Isn't that profiling based on how a person looks? Not exactly, says local ACLU staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper, adding that profiling can be legal when done properly. Curfews, too.

What creates mob mentality? There's no single cause. A number of streams feed the river of antisocial behavior.

Is it poverty? If it were just poverty, we'd have nightly conga lines of thieves plundering Walmart. We don't, because most poor people are law-abiding.

Is it hopelessness? America is the land of opportunity - ask any immigrant - but you have to work for it. That may be as foreign as Esperanto to these kids.

Is it boredom? When you were young, maybe you kicked over trash cans, drank beer, tagged graffiti, knocked out a street light. You didn't smash strangers and steal their wallets.

Is it rage? Most marauders live in crappy neighborhoods where violence is a norm and helping police ("don't snitch") is not. Most quit school, sealing their fate, then immerse themselves in a sewer of violent music, videos and computer games. Is that where they learn the language of rage?

Is it parenting? Statistically, you are far less likely to break the law if you come from a stable, two-parent home in which at least one parent works. Reviving intact families is a daunting challenge, but one we should accept.

After I wrote about the mobs last week, some readers said I should know that these kids run wild in their own neighborhoods, too, and it gets scant attention from the press and from government.

Rapid response came to Center City because the hoodlums raised the ante.

It's not that your neighborhood doesn't count - it should get help - but Center City is the heart of government, the heart of business, of entertainment, of all-important tourism. If you allow an attack on the heart, you die.

That's why Nutter jumped so fast. That's why the church, the cops, the curfew.

By his quick action, Nutter changed the narrative in the media from "Philly's dangerous and out of control" to "Philly has a tough mayor who's putting the hoodlums in their place."

That's the message the mayor wanted the world to hear and he succeeded. (And it's not a bad message to issue as he runs for re-election.)

Now it's time to take names and kick ass in North Philly, South Philly, Manayunk, Southwest Philly and every other mob-plagued neighborhood not near the historic district.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns: www.philly.com/Byko.

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