'Flash Mob' Of Youth Vandals Puts Philly On Alert

It starts with a text message or a tweet telling hundreds of young men and women to show up at a certain place. This phenomenon is known as a flash mob; and for years it's involved a fun activity such as massive snowball or pillow fights. But in Philadelphia, flash mobs involving hundreds of young men and women, mostly African-American, led to vandalism and violent behavior. Guest host Allison Keyes speaks with Shai Ben Yaacov, a reporter with WHYY in Philadelphia.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time now for our weekly visit to the barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for this week's shape up are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, author and editor Keith Boykin and NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks. A to the K, what's good?

KEYES: I just want a better nickname than that. I'm just saying.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, well, we'll work on it. There's only 24 hours in a day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: So, welcome to the shop. Hey, fellas, what's good? Welcome to the shop.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney): Hey, hey, hey.

KEN RUDIN: Happy health care.

Mr. KEITH BOYKIN (Author and editor): Hey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEN RUDIN: My life is already I'm already feeling better now that it's passed.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? Word on the street is that there's a new law in the land with President Obama signing a sweeping health care overhaul into law Tuesday, Allison.

KEYES: That is too true, Jimi. Congress made the final fixes to that bill last night. But what's really been making headlines has nothing to do with the law itself. But it's all about the threats of violence being made toward members of Congress. We've got a couple of cuts to play for you. The first is a message left for Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan, which was released on Wednesday. Here it is.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

(Soundbite of recording)

Unidentified Woman: Congressman Stupak, you are one big piece of human (beep). And think about this there are millions of people across the country who wish you ill, and all of those thoughts projected on you will materialize into something that's not very good for you. Go to hell, you piece of (beep).

KEYES: Okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. That sounds like my bookie. Are you sure it's not my bookie?

KEYES: Wait, wait, wait. We've got one more. This time from the Republican side

RUDIN: That was (unintelligible).

KEYES: Come on, Ken. This clip is from Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, who, again, is a Republican. He says he's been the target of threats, too, but he wasn't out complaining about it. And he blamed the Democrats for saying Republicans were encouraging some of the threats.

(Soundbite of recording)

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain. That is why I have deep concerns that some D triple C Chairman Chris Van Hollen and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine in particular are dangerously fanning the flames, by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon. To use such threats as political weapons is reprehensible.

Mr. IZRAEL: A to the K...

Mr. BOYKIN He's got to be joking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you so much, Ken dog, first up. Given the way the health care debate has played out over the last year, there's a tone and timbre of the rhetoric. Does it surprise you at all, brother?

RUDIN: No it doesn't. I'll tell you why it doesn't, because this stuff just started this week. Remember, go back to last September when Joe Wilson, the Congressman from South Carolina yells out, you lie, in the middle of President Bush President Obama talking to a joint session of Congress about talking about health care.

Alan Grayson has said the congressman from Florida - said Republicans want you all to die. I'm not comparing the rhetoric and certainly when you spit at members of Congress, when there are racial and homophobic epithets yelled at members of Congress, that's beyond the pale.

But I think the whole debate from day one has been beyond the pale. The lack of correct information, the ignorance is out there. And the fear that's out there, that's been out there for such a long time is really leading to what we've seen over the last couple of days.

Mr. IZRAEL: A Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, we're seeing a political double standard here between Republicans and Democrats. You know, when President Bush was in power and passed the USA Patriot Act, or the Military Commission Act, you know, we didn't hear, you know, soundbites of him being, you know, called a fascist an things like that. But, you know, it seems like that term socialist comes up every other sentence with President Obama.

And I think it is particularly reprehensible, you know, that the Republican Party has really fanned the flames of hatred here. I mean, let's...

RUDIN: Careful. You got to be careful, though.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, really, seriously.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, but put some perspective into I mean, the Tea Party movement is most closely aligned to the Republican Party. I mean, that is just part and parcel of their movement. And, you know, on a piece of legislation that gives 32 million Americans health insurance, I mean, that should be non-controversial in any regard.

And so that's what really bothers me is that, you know, it just seems like they're just sore losers, you know, in terms of, you know, the political game right now.

Mr. IZRAEL: Keith Boykin, my man. You know what? You know, the conversation I'm having in my barbershop is, look, you know, and don't tase me, bro, but I'm just not I'm not sure that the kind of rhetoric we're hearing from the right is dramatically different than the kind of rhetoric we heard from the left when Bush was in power. You know what I mean? That's what I've been saying. How do you read it?

Mr. BOYKIN: I think that's completely wrong. You know, I think...

Mr. IZRAEL: Really? Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: There's been this effort by the media and by some Republicans to cast this as bipartisan. Both sides are doing it. Both sides are getting threats. That's nonsense. The Republican Party leadership is fanning the flames. It's responsible for contributing to this atmosphere. They're not responsible for everything these extremist Tea Party people do but heck, you know, they're practically encouraging them. They dont say stop the bill. They say kill the bill.

The Republicans barely condemn the behavior of this guy who flies the plane into the IRS building in Texas. This other guy is throwing - is encouraging people to throw bricks through windows and the Republicans barely say a thing about that. Members of Congress standing out there on Capitol Hill waving dont tread on me flags to protestors. It's like waving a raw steak in front of a pit bull.

KEYES: Okay. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

Mr. IZRAEL: But, you know what, Keith...

KEYES: I have to jump in.

Mr. IZRAEL: Keith.

KEYES: I have to jump in. I covered some of those Tea Party protestors and yeah, they were carrying those flags, but almost every person I talked to except for one, claimed or insisted that this wasnt about race. And Ken is sitting here with his face all screwed up because he clearly has something to say.

RUDIN: Well, just that they...

Mr. BOYKIN: But I didnt say race. I never mentioned race.

KEYES: I hear you.

Mr. BOYKIN: I didnt say race.

RUDIN: No, first of all...

Mr. IZRAEL: (unintelligible).

RUDIN: ...regarding what Arsalan just said, Bush was called a fascist for a lot of things. I saw rallies where Bush was called a fascist and Nazi and Hitler, so those comparisons were there too.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Thank you.

RUDIN: Bart Stupak was getting hate mail from the left because of his insistence on pro-life language, but I think it's just gone to a further extreme with the spitting, with the throwing of rocks, with the severing of a gas line to what they thought was a congressman's house. It was actually his brother's house because he has the same last name...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: ...and that could've caused a (unintelligible). So I'm not saying this is not as bad. I mean look, Bill Ayers, who was bombing - he was setting off bombs in the 1970s and he later became an Obama fundraiser. You know, I'm saying look, there's a lot of things you want to draw comparisons to, but the thing - and I was talking to this to Arsalan just before, there is a fear, there's an anger and I think that it's gotten to a point where people should be afraid and Republicans, what they haven't done is they haven't stood up and said this is completely unacceptable.

KEYES: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are in the Barbershop and we're speaking with journalist Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Keith Boykin and Ken Rudin.

Before I go back to you Jimi, Ken, don't you think this is going to backfire?

RUDIN: Well, it could. You know, we always talk about trends in this country. When Scott Brown was elected the senator in Massachusetts in January, everybody said health care is dead, the Democrats are finished, every Democrat was going to lose.

Now when you see President Obama finally accomplishing what he promised to do, getting this passed, Nancy Pelosi is standing up to it, even though it looked like it was going to fail so many times, now that they have something to hang their hats on, the Republicans seem to be on the defensive and now Democrats seem to have this - look, all you have to do if youre centrist, if youre a moderate, if youve been voting Republican all along, if you see what's going on with the anger and the hatred, those middle Americans, those moderate Americans may now be going towards the Democratic way. So for all the fears of the Democratic blowout in November, that may not be the case anymore.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right.

RUDIN: But again, trends change very quickly.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. All right. Well, I know its hard for you all to believe, but there was some other news this week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Now the Pentagon moved a little bit closer to allowing gay and lesbian women in the military to serve openly, Allison.

KEYES: Well, a little bit anyway.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

KEYES: I mean Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the military would ease the kind of evidence that could be used to out a service member. Some of those include ignoring anonymous complaints, making those who do file complaints do so under oath.

Here's some tape of Secretary Gates from yesterday's announcement.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice above all, by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved.

As I told the Congress in February, I am determined that we in the department carry out the presidents directive on Dont Ask, Dont Tell in a professional and thorough way.�

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm. Wow. Thanks for that, Allison. Keith, youre out there, right?

Mr. BOYKIN: Yeah, you know, I...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, hold on, brother. I want to give you your props now. Now you were an advisor to President Clinton...

Mr. BOYKIN: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...who introduced the policy in 1993, and you have the distinction of being the highest ranking openly gay man in the Clinton White House at the time Dont Ask Dont Tell was implemented. Now, do these changes go far enough or could there be more done?

Mr. BOYKIN: No, they dont go far enough. There's a lot more that needs to be done and Secretary Gates has a review process, it's underway and I guess by the end of December or the beginning of December we'll have some more results as to how this is going to evolve. But ultimately, Congress is the one that has to make the decision change the law because it was enacted into law back in 1993.

And, you know, I remember being in the meeting once with the attorney general and the national security advisor and the Joint Chiefs of Staff talking about a specific case, this guy Joe Steffen in 1993, and the generals were all worried about the rank-and-file - what are the troops going to think? And now we have new polls out that show that three quarters of Iraq and Afghan war veterans support repeal of Dont Ask Dont Tell, so the ground has shifted.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm.

KEYES: Can I jump in and ask...

Mr. IZRAEL: Allison?

KEYES: Can I jump in and ask a question? Keith, I wonder what youre hearing from the gay and lesbian community about this, because he promised in January, or the president said in January that he was going to try to get rid of this. So are they annoyed?

Mr. BOYKIN: Well, I dont think there's unanimity of opinion on this issue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: I think a lot of people...

KEYES: Well, obviously. I'm not saying, you know, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Keith, is it supposed to be negative is it?

KEYES: ...what are you hearing from people you know?

Mr. BOYKIN: In some ways this issue feels really, really old to me because I remember I've been, you know, working on this issue in some way or shape or form since the 1990s - early 1990s, and it seems to me this should've gone on and been resolved by now. People are talking about marriage. And the military issue, it's something it just seems natural. Most of the American people support some sort of change in this. They think that gay and lesbian service members should be allowed serve. So I dont think the LGBT community is obsessed about this. They just think it's something that should've happened a long time ago and should happen right now.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, okay. Yeah, I'm not...

Mr. BOYKIN: Maybe the Congress aren't quite there yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? Okay, changing the beat slightly. Actually, maybe dramatically, you know, because...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Well?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, right. You know, cable TV network TLC has announced that it will begin production on a new documentary series called "Sarah Palin's Alaska," aka the moose hunter. No, I'm just kidding.

KEYES: Now, now, now. Jimi, come on. Come on. It's supposed to be a look at Alaska from the perspective of the former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee, and its going to be produced - get this - by the same guy who produced "Survivor."

Mr. IZRAEL: Yikes. A-Train, I know you can't wait to weigh in on this one.

RUDIN: He's champing. He is champing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know...

Mr. IZRAEL: What do you think of this move? Will you watch the show?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know Jimi, a great poet once said, cash rules everything around me. Cream get the money. Dollar, dollar bill ya'll. And with...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ... a million dollar per episode that Sarah Palin's going to be getting for this show, she will be rolling in the cream and maybe we will finally get to see Russia from the back porch of her house.

KEYES: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: And I've been waiting so long for that. I mean...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Wu-Tang and Palin together.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, who hasnt been waiting so long for that?

KEYES: I feel like there should've been music under that somewhere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Ken Dog.

RUDIN: Well, you know, first of all, TLC also is has a program, "I Didnt Know I was Pregnant," and I think that's, you know, it's going to come on right after that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Nice.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Nice. Nice. Nice.

RUDIN: But, no, no. Well, you know, so. But its interesting because she's signing up for six episodes, I think. But I understand she's going to quit in the middle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: It's a pattern in there.

KEYES: Wait.

Mr. IZRAEL: Keith, this can't hurt or help her political credibility can it?

Mr. BOYKIN: Well, you know, Sarah Palin has become the Sarah Palin of politics.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. BOYKIN: And I say that with all true sincerity. She has become a joke and unfortunately, I think it shows how breathtakingly irresponsible John McCain was for picking her in the first place as his running mate. Everything she does is just an example of why she should never have been anywhere close to the Oval Office.

KEYES: Wait, I know you all are going to kill me for this, and so is Teshima. Maybe she's not listening, but I was up really late last night, right and I saw this ad for SlimTs. It's kind of the whole male version of Spanx. Let me play a clip from the ad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man: How would you like to get the same incredible results without dieting, without exercising, without pills instantly? That's right - instantly. Now you can tighten you waistline, trim down your love handles, eliminate back bulges, and even improve your posture with SlimTs. The incredibly new slimming garment just for men that can instantly drop you up to two pants sizes and give you a slimmer, firmer and younger looking appearance guaranteed.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

KEYES: Teshima is our senior producer. But Jimi, Denzel...

Mr. IZRAEL: Whoa, whoa, hey now.

KEYES: Denzel, if a woman you were interested in wanted you to wear this, what would you do?

Mr. IZRAEL: Look okay. Okay, I dont if I should put this on the radio, but my woman makes me wear enough kinky stuff as it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Whoa.

Mr. IZRAEL: Now I dont mind being a mailman or the pizza delivery guy, but the SlimTs, you got to miss me on that one. Besides, you know, let the record show that I've dropped five inches off my tummy since September.

KEYES: Wow. Good job. Good job.

Mr. IZRAEL: So bust that.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Nice. Nice.

Mr. IZRAEL: Bust that.

KEYES: Then I guess we have to put it to you Ken, because...

RUDIN: Well...

KEYES: ...yeah, that would look so - I mean its a T-shirt that holds you in. You all know what the Spanx do. They have these lovely little things that make bulges go away.

RUDIN: Oh, see I was hoping it for a different kind of spanks. No but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But Ill be brief. I'll be brief. Get it? No, but I think, you know, I dont think men really care about this. Like, I have a friend of mine who got a vasectomy at Sears and now every time he gets...

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey now.

RUDIN: And every time he gets an erection his garage door opens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: And I think that's much of a different thing that men really care about.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh no.

RUDIN: This show isn't live. This isn't live is it?

KEYES: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ba-dum-bum.

KEYES: Arsalan?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, it reminds me of the "Seinfeld" episode with the man bra, you know? And I mean I just I'm rendered speechless by it. I mean I dont know which guy or which barbershop, you know, they would talk about this in.

Mr. IZRAEL: Keith Boykin doesnt need it because he's in better shape than anybody in this Barbershop for sure.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Definitely. Absolutely.

Mr. IZRAEL: For sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: I dont know how to take that, but yeah, I dont think men should wear girdles. I think, you know, if you want a better body just put down the Twinkie and go to the gym.

RUDIN: Hey dont call my girlfriend a Twinkie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Oh my goodness. But seriously though, I mean you guys want your women to look good. Jimi, in fact, youve written that in your book, so how are you saying youre not willing to do the same?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, did I also mention I've dropped five inches off my tummy since September?

KEYES: Yeah, you did.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay now...

KEYES: So in other words, you dont need to do that anymore?

Mr. IZRAEL: ...bust that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Now, all righty then.

RUDIN: But when the clothes are off the truth is out there, so I mean, you know, it's just nice...

Mr. IZRAEL: Believe that the truth is out there when my clothes come off, brother. Believe that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: TMI. TMI.

KEYES: Wait, before this gets any worse...

RUDIN: That's on the radio.

KEYES: One that note, before it gets any worse, Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Keith Boykin is an author and editor of the online news site The Daily Voice. He was kind enough to join us from member station WLRN in Miami. Ken Rudin is, of course, NPR's political editor - trying to get me fired - and he joined us here in the studio. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney. They were both kind enough to be here in our Washington studios.

Thanks you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Spank me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: And that's our program for today. Im Allison Keyes. Youve been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Michel Martin will be back on Monday.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.