Did a wave of brawling in US malls the day after Christmas amount to a series of coincidences, or to a loosely organized plot? More than a dozen shopping centers got disrupted by violence yesterday, and a few of those had something in common — false reports of gunfire. Others appeared to be touched off by rival groups of teens, interrupting one of the busiest shopping days of the year for retailers.
WCCO gave a brief overview this morning:
The New York Times notes that the fights broke out across more than a dozen states, from New Jersey to Colorado:
At the Cross Creek Mall food court in Fayetteville, N.C., a group of teenagers scuffled around 4:45 p.m., resulting in that mall’s closing, the Fayetteville Police Department said in a statement. Despite receiving several 911 calls about gunshots, the police could not confirm that any were fired inside or outside the mall.
In Chattanooga, Tenn., around the same time, 20 fireworks were set off at the Hamilton Place mall, the mall said on Twitter.
Fights broke out at two Memphis malls, according to local reports. One led to the closing of the Oak Court Mall, and another, at the nearby Wolfchase Galleria, resulted in several 911 calls about shots fired, The Commercial Appeal reported.
“Somebody yelled ‘Gun!’ and youths stampeded through the mall,” Deputy Chief Terry Landrum of the Memphis Police Department told the paper about the episode at the Wolfchase Galleria, noting the similarity to the melee at Oak Court.
Police in Tempe, Arizona are investigating possible connections between the fight that took place there and in other malls — and to gang activity at home:
Police in Beachwood, Ohio responded to a report of gunshots at their local mall, but announced that no shots had been fired at all. They did state that the brawl had “been organized on social media,” which they dispersed by deploying pepper spray on the crowd:
Re: BCHWD Place #2. Disturbance appears to have been organized on social media. One juvenile arrested for disorderly conduct.
— OfficialBeachwoodOH (@BeachwoodOH) December 27, 2016
That may have been coordinated as an individual incident on social media, but …. was there more to this sudden rash of brawling than meets the eye? The circumstances of each differ, but there are enough similarities to make one wonder, even if some of those could be explained away. The false reports of gunfire might have been a panicked response prompted by fears of what was coming, for instance, and one incident involved firecrackers which could easily explain the mistake. One would think that social-media posts attempting to start a national wave of riots would have already emerged by now, especially with police investigations continuing into today. So far, they seem to be coming up empty:
Police believe that, in some situations, postings on social media drew many teens to the shopping centers, reports CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. But while they all happened within a few hours of each other, it’s still unclear whether they occurred by chance or were planned.
Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse — seeing an organized effort to instigate Christmas-season brawling, or having a culture that spawns it organically across the country. At least the former would be marginally more explicable.