|Al.com put this picture of a white Flash Mob with its story on the 400+ Black people riot that closed Edge 12 Movie Theater in Birmingham on Christmas Night|
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- A crowd of young people -- possibly drawn though social media -- interrupted the movies at The Edge 12 Movie Theater and were disruptive outside in the parking lot of Festival Shopping Center on Crestwood Boulevard Sunday night.
About 400 people were involved, with 200 of them really disruptive, Birmingham Police East Precinct commander Capt. Allen Hatcher said Tuesday, based on reports he got from the off-duty Birmingham police officer who worked security at the theater that night.
Movie-goer Shannon Webster, pastor of First Presbyterian Church downtown, said he counted 18 police cars when he and his family were told to leave the theater, part-way through seeing "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows."
"I was surprised," he said. "I did not expect to see that on Christmas night, going out to the movies."
Hatcher said that a large group of youths had showed up in the theater and the parking lot Sunday and started to cause problems and disruptions. When theater management confronted them, they grew more disruptive and management shut all the movies down.
Hatcher said some youths out in the parking lot banged on windows of nearby businesses, pushed some shopping carts into the parking lot, and went inside a Chinese restaurant. The off-duty officer put out a call, and police responded with a large contingent.
No one, to his knowledge, Hatcher said, was hurt or arrested, but a window was damaged at the Radio Shack store. The off-duty officer said that youths had heard on Facebook there was going to be a fight.
Hatcher said he recalled Trussville having a similar social media mob at a movie theater more than a year ago.
Webster said he had arrived at the Edge 12 about 7 with his wife and two adult children. When he arrived, there were "a lot of really young kids were crowded inside, milling around."
During the movie, some came into the theater and started making noise, but one of the other movie-goers ordered them out in a commanding voice, Webster said.
"There were hundreds of kids in the lobby," he said.
Webster saw security guards handcuffing several. He thought the crowd of youths ranged in age from 13 to their early 20s.
The outside scene seemed tense, said Webster, who has done church work in places such as the Gaza Strip, Northern Ireland, Cuba, Guatemala, and Communist Eastern Europe.
"Usually there is nothing going on there on Sunday afternoon," Hatcher said of the shopping center. "I believe social media made it a big event."Webster said Sunday night was the only time he had ever felt unsafe there, and he plans to return to the movies.
Efforts to reach the management of Edge 12 for comment were unsuccessful.
"I don't want it to keep me from going back to the theater, because I think it's important for the neighborhood and for East Birmingham," said Webster, who lives in Crestwood. "We need them there, so I will continue to go there.
Owner Marty Felts and general manager Rob DeLeo are seeking to bring new life into the old digs, and hope to reinvigorate the Festival Center in the process. Safety concerns from the past have been dealt with, and the theater features heightened security and an interior ticket office so that moviegoers can buy their tickets inside rather than standing outside at a box office.
“We want this to be a family-friendly place, with a committed staff and great employees,” said spokesperson Newton, assistant manager of the Edge, who added that there has been no trouble whatsoever in the area thus far.
Flash mobs are in the news again, with reports of a rowdy Mall of America "smash and grab" crowd on Monday and, closer to home, movie goers being sent home early from the Edge 12 Movie Theater in Birmingham on Christmas Day when security and management grew anxious over a group of rowdy young people believed to have been drawn by a Facebook mention of a possible fight.
Some cities have wrestled with trying to find a way to address the chaos such social media-driven events can cause. In Cleveland, the city council passed ordinances earlier this month aimed at curbing them.
The City Council there banned "inciting to riot" and added computers and cellphones to a list of items that can be considered criminal tools when used illegally. Violators may be sentenced to up to six months in jail and fined $1,000.
Critics had blasted a previous effort by the Cleveland panel to outlaw the use of Facebook and Twitter to rally mobs as unconstitutional, unnecessary and difficult to enforce. The ordinances passed this month became law without the signature of Mayor Frank Jackson, who said he didn't think they will make a difference.
[Other articles from Cleveland.com chronicling discussion of the issue there can be found here.]
For years, social media has been used to fuel gatherings that turn out to be beneficial or sinister, entertaining or even philanthropic, such as the November kickoff for the Salvation Army kettle drive in Birmingham, which was billed as a "flash mob" event but might not have met the letter of the definition of the term.
Crumbling infrastructure in many of the nation's larger cities such as Birmingham are placing an unsustainable financial burden on populations unable pay for the rebuilding of key systems such as sewer and water, says a new research study from Michigan State University.
The infrastructure of the nation's central cities has reached and passed replacement age just as many core areas now contain populations of largely lower-income minorities already paying more for services than rural and small-city residents.
Along with metro Birmingham, other cities mentioned include Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.