Think of all the good deeds, the charitable works, that hundreds of teenagers could have done the day after Christmas — if only they had been guided well by their parents.
Whiling away the hours on Dec. 26, just hours after opening their gifts, scores of teenagers were online, scrolling through their feeds and looking for something — anything — to do. And then they raised a little hell.
“There’s a pretty discrete group of people who cause a bulk of these problems, at least historically,” said one authority. “It tends to be teenage boys.”
By the end of Monday night, at least 15 fights had broken out in shopping centers from Connecticut to Arizona. Videos posted online showed throngs of teenagers ripping through malls in Tennessee and Ohio, and Slurpee cups flying alongside fists as bystanders uploaded the images to social media.
But is social media where it all started? Was some “movement” coyly coordinated there, code words in place, a snarky response to the fact that it was Boxing Day, a nod to both boredom and belligerence? Some police departments believe so but cannot prove it yet — while others think it was all a sort of spontaneous combustion, hundreds of bored teens acting out at pretty much the exact same time.
The injuries were curiously low, and the arrests not much higher: Seven young people ranging in age from 13 to 17 were arrested in Memphis; five were arrested following two incidents at a mall in Monroesville, east of Pittsburgh; and seven were arrested following a series of brawls at a mall in Manchester, Connecticut — to name a few.
Just 24 hours later, on Tuesday night, there was no evidence of the fights being related to one another, said Fort Worth police spokeswoman Tamara Valle, who was on duty when the Fort Worth fight was reported Monday evening.
“Every media outlet I have spoken to has asked me about that,” she said in a prepared statement. “It seems like more than a coincidence, but I honestly don’t know.”
The New York Times reported that police do agree the event has “the characteristics of so-called flash mobs, gatherings loosely based on social media.” They are also speculating that “unseasonably warm temperatures in some places may have played a role.” It was 65 degrees in Indianapolis, and well into the 50s in Connecticut. The headline read, “Police See a Culprit: Teenage Boredom.”
In North Carolina, authorities aren’t taking any chances. Teenagers are barred from the Fayetteville Mall after 5 p.m. for the rest of the week.
Anyone under age 18 must leave the mall at 5 p.m. unless they’re accompanied by a parent or guardian over 21, noted WRAL. Those who refuse could be prosecuted for trespassing.
But, again, is it really as simple as this? One mall spokesperson seems to think so. “We, in the past, have had several issues with safety at the mall the day after Christmas,” Arden Fair spokeswoman Jamie Donely told The Sacramento Bee. “Several issues with fights and other unsafe activity … and so this was our way to make the mall safe on a day when the mall typically has some bad history.”
Arden officials activated a rule that was recently added to the mall’s code of conduct — during periods of high occupancy, security may require minors to be accompanied by adults. That meant Dec. 26, where Arden Fair Mall had exactly one brawl to report — and it took place outside. “[It was] nothing on the scale of previous years,” Donely added.
The Sacramento Police Department had more than 50 officers at Arden Fair on Monday, said department spokesman Matt McPhail. Each officer was paired with a mall security officer to enforce the code of conduct as people walked into the mall, he said.
“There’s a pretty discrete group of people who cause a bulk of these problems, at least historically,” McPhail said. “It tends to be teenage boys.”