From London to Philadelphia, youths erupting over theft of their futures

Courtland Milloy
Columnist August 9, 2011

This morning I woke up in a curfew;

O God, I was a prisoner, too — yeah!

Could not recognize the faces standing over me;

They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality.

— From Bob Marley’s “Burnin’ and Lootin’ ”

*

From D.C. to London, Philadelphia to Liverpool, Milwaukee to Bristol, law-abiding citizens say they just can’t figure out what’s up with these rampaging urban youths. Perhaps I can help. Think of their aberrant behavior as the alley version of the Wall Street bum rush and rip-off.

First there were flash mobs of bankers and mortgage lenders picking pockets, looting businesses, taking over homes and torching jobs. Now come the young marauders — using a crude version of the same tactics, striking out in anger over the theft of their futures. Outraged that some would even blame them for the loss of their economic prospects.

At a recent town hall meeting on jobs, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray heard one youngster after another complain about the lack of employment opportunities in the city. One of them handed him 10 pages of signatures she’d collected from youths in her neighborhood who were looking for jobs.

An impressive show of civic-mindedness, to which Gray responded:

“The people who didn’t get jobs, I’m inclined to believe it’s their fault,” he said. “They didn’t do anything to help themselves.”

You don’t have to approve of flash mobs to understand how one might erupt on the spot.

In Philadelphia this past weekend, Mayor Michael A. Nutter made an even nuttier remark in the aftermath of a downtown flash mob attack.

“If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you?” Nutter lectured. “They don’t hire you because you look like you’re crazy.”

In the United States, the unemployment rate among black teenagers is 39.2 percent, compared with 23 percent for white teenagers. These numbers aren’t the result of black youngsters not combing their hair. Or not doing anything to help themselves. It’s the result of politicians reneging on promises to come up with policies and strategies for creating jobs and job-training programs.

According to a 2009 report by the District’s Healthy Families, Thriving Communities Collaborative Council, more than 100 gangs and neighborhood “crews” operate in the city — the heart of a flash mob — and the use of semiautomatic weapons is on the rise.

“Over the past 15 years, numerous plans, reports and proposals addressing youth violence prevention in the District have been prepared by both public and private agencies,” the report said. Providing job opportunities has always been strongly recommended. “Unfortunately, of those recommendations funded and implemented, most have been short lived due to budgetary constraints or diminished political support.”

The Washington Post noted Tuesday that former London mayor Ken Livingstone believed the unrest in that city was the result of pent-up resentment “over the weak economy, high unemployment rates and historically deep budget cuts that are decreasing government funding for poor communities and grass-roots charities.”

Livingstone got it. Hopefully more politicians in this country will, too. In London, the flash point for the unrest was a police shooting of a black man. We need not wait for that to happen here before taking preventive action.

It should be noted that London was one of the first cities to use the “Mosquito,” a device that emits a high-pitched sound aimed at irritating youthful ears and discouraging them from congregating in certain public places.

About 3,500 were deployed. Clearly, somebody got irritated. And now the city is in flames.

Another city where the Mosquito was deployed, albeit for a much shorter time: the District. But it should be clear by now that harassing and insulting youngsters only makes the problem worse.

Feeling disrespected and often outright ignored, many of them are threatening to destroy what they can’t have. And why not? The strategy worked so well for tea party anarchists that even President Obama started paying attention.

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