Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was on fire in church last Sunday morning.
I’ve always thought of him as a pretty mild mannered guy; serious and studious. I’ve known him since our days as classmates at the University of Pennsylvania way back when.
But last Sunday, Nutter was angry.
He was an angry Mayor, father, and 25-year member of the Mount Carmel Baptist church community.
The eruption of so-called “flash mobs” in the City of Brotherly Love really bothered him.
There had been a few of incidents over the past couple of weeks: young people randomly marauding through the streets of Center City, attacking innocent people in their path — and doing it for no obvious reason other than whatever joy it apparently brought them.
Nutter, in what many have called a “Bill Cosby,” moment, called out the city’s African-American youth, and their parents too. And what’s more, he got rave reviews. And it wasn’t just about swarms of young people attacking Center City.
The line that jumped out for me was more sweeping. He told young people, and I’m paraphrasing here: don’t blame white people if you can’t find a job, if you show up with tattoos all up and down your arms, your pants hanging down, your hair uncombed and your shoes untied. Don’t blame anybody else, Nutter said, because you look crazy!!
And finally, he slammed criminal offenders in the community, young and old, when he said, “you have damaged your own race.”
It was tough talk. Tough love some would say.
WATCH MSNBC’S Mara Schiavocampo’s report on flash mobs:
Critics said he was appealing to white voters. There’s an election later this year. Supporters heard a man speaking from the heart. The reaction in the church sounded more appreciative than not.
Nutter’s comments were especially interesting because a lot is being written about this
“flash mob” phenomenon that describes it as racial — black youths out of control, There have even been comparisons to the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict.
After an incident outside the Wisconsin State Fair, when a gang of youths descended on the crowd leaving the event, one 911 caller told police a white man was getting beaten up “by about 100 black people.”
It’s hard to know the racial breakdown of a crime hitting several cities; a crime that by definition happens spontaneously and in a flash. It hard to even know when a “flash mob” is a “flash mob” and not just your regular old gang. Social media, say the experts, is the common denominator; young people using texts, tweets, and the internet to communicate and meet somewhere to cause mayhem. It’s not the kind of crime that’s likely the work of any particular group because everybody has a cell phone. And that’s much of what it takes.
The question of whether flash mobs are a “Black thing” will no doubt continue to be asked.
Meanwhile, Mayor Nutter, to his church, made clear he blames some folks in his own community for ravaging innocent, unsuspecting pedestrians motorists, storekeepers and anyone else who just happens to be in their way on the street.
Some people say it took a lot of courage for the mayor to say what he did. Watching him, you get the feeling courage wasn’t really a factor.
Nutter just seemed so disgusted that he just had to, as he put it, talk about things black people “think but won’t say.”