Police suspect social media spurred mall violence – USA TODAY
Fights broke out in malls in a number of states on the day after Christmas, sending shoppers fleeing. Nobody was seriously hurt. Incidents were reported in states including, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado. (Dec. 27)
Police officials in several U.S. cities said Tuesday that they suspectÂ social media was used to organize someÂ of the string of brawls and disturbances that broke out at more than a dozen shopping malls across the country a day earlier, marring one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
In Aurora, Colo., police saidÂ a posting on social media announcing a fight at the Town Center of Aurora drew an unruly crowd that grew to about 500 people. Five suspects, all juveniles, were arrested in that fight, which broughtÂ 50 officers to the scene and led to the mall being shut down.
Manchester, Conn., police saidÂ several fights broke out around the same time at the Shoppes at Buckland Hills Mall in that city on Monday evening. Capt. Christopher Davis saidÂ police there believe it is âhighly probableâ that social media postings played a part in organizing the disturbances that ended with the arrests of seven people â including five teenagers â who were involved in the melees.
Meanwhile, in Beachwood, Ohio, police saidÂ about 500 young people who took part in a large-scale disturbance at the mall on Monday had been âloosely organized on social media.â
Police in the Cleveland suburb evacuated the mall after teens had been running through the shopping center amidÂ incorrect reports that shots had been fired. The mallâs operators eventually reopened it to shoppers after the situation was calmed. One juvenile who struck a police officer was charged with disorderly conduct.
Other major mall disturbances â including some that led to shopping centers being evacuated â occurred in Tempe, Ariz.; Aurora, Ill.; Louisville;Â Fayetteville, N.C.; East Garden City, N.Y.;Â Memphis;Â Fort Worth and elsewhere.
Images and videos of the brawls and chaotic scenes also were posted on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.
Several fights in the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois broke out just one day after the Christmas holiday sending people running for exits. (Dec. 27)
âThereâs a definite connection with social media,â said Chris McGoey, who heads the Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting firm. Â âThis is not a coincidence that on this day you have all of these similar events happening across the country involving a certain age demographic. If you look at where many of these incidents occurred, they are in cold climates. Added to that, it happened the day after Christmas, most of these individuals were school-ageÂ children and they have nothing to do. And this is the YouTube generation, they record everything, and they want to stimulate things through their social media.â
Law enforcement officials have not uncovered any evidence that the incidents â which occurred at malls in at least 12Â states within hours of each other â were nationally coordinated.
Officer Tamara Valle, a Fort Worth Police Department spokeswoman, said officers there were investigating to see whether an incident at Hulen Mall, in which 100 to 150 teenagers brawled at the food court, was part of âsome kind of premeditated thing across the nation.â Like the incident in Beachwood, police were called to the scene after incorrect reports that shots had been fired.
Capt. Gary Haba, a spokesman for the Beachwood Police Department, saidÂ police and mall officials there regularly monitor social media and beef up security when they spot postings from teenagers suggesting that a fight may occur at the mall.
Haba saidÂ while police spotted postings on social media suggesting that something was brewing on Monday, the messages did not appear to be spread very far.
âWe didnât see any massive traffic that suggested that it was going to be a big thing,â Haba said. âSometimes, weâll see about as much (social media traffic) as we did yesterday, and weâll show up and nothing happens.â
In the incident at the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Ill., west of Chicago, police said eight juveniles, ages 13 to 17, face various misdemeanor charges for their parts in several melees that broke out there on Monday and may have been spurred by social media.
Mall security called police after they saw a large crowd of teenagers gather in the food court area. Police arrived and called on the teens to disperse.
Shortly after officers ordered the teens to disperse, police said a large fight broke out in the mall as well as several smaller skirmishes. The situation escalated further as some in the crowd threw drinks and other items atÂ police and mall security, police said.
Two officers were battered trying to break up the fights, and 75 officers were dispatched to the mall to restore order. No one was seriously injured, police said.
âAurora Police continue to investigate what role social media may have played in organizing the disturbance and what connection the disturbance may have to other similar incidents that were reported in several cities across the nation,â the department said in a statement. âThe motive behind the disturbance is not yet known.â
McGoey, the Los Angeles-based security consultant, said mall operators’ best effective deterrence to these social-media driven incidents is to be tough on less serious misconduct, such as loitering and harassment of shoppers.
âThese incidents arenât going to get better, theyâre probably only going to become more common,â McGoey said. âThe malls that enforce rules of conduct and drive the knuckleheads away and wonât allow them to hang out in clusters and make catcalls (at women), they are going to reduce the chances of being targeted. Theyâre going to pick on the mall that allows them to gather in clusters and where mall security allows things to escalate before they do anything.â
Contributing: USA TODAY’s Susan Miller and WFAA-TV
Follow USA TODAY Chicago correspondentÂ Aamer Madhani on Twitter:Â @AamerISmad
Police in Beachwood, Ohio say “sizeable groups of juveniles” were behind a melee that “appears to have been loosely organized on social media.” A young man was arrested for attempting to hit an officer. No other arrests or injuries were reported.
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