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Gov. Quinn Cracks Down on Social Media 'Flash Mobs' with Stiffer Penalties

By Kyla Gardner | May 18, 2013 2:03pm
 Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill Saturday that imposes harsher sentences on those who organize violent "flash mobs" through social media.
Violent Flash Mob Bill
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MAGNIFICENT MILE — Hashtag: jailtime.

Illinois lawmakers are cracking down on young people who use social media to organize crime and the type of violent "flash mobs" that have drawn scrutiny to popular tourist areas.

The bill Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Saturday imposes stricter sentences for online crime organizers, increasing penalties from one to three years in jail to three to six years.

"In recent months, we've had a serious problem with the use of social media to cause harm to people and property," Quinn said at the bill-signing ceremony at Pioneer Court. "And we have to act."

A group of teens was arrested in connection with a robbery near the State-Lake Red Line station in late March after coordinating the meetup on Twitter. In March, 28 teens were arrested for robbery and fighting nearby a Gold Coast "L" stop. In 2011, a rash of so-called flash mobs ended with downtown tourists being injured by groups of people attempting to rob them of valuables.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) said Saturday the bill doesn't just protect Chicago's upscale, touristy Magnificent Mile.

"There are instances on the South Side, not too far from my home, where social media has been used by gangs to gather people together to commit criminal acts that have caused harm — shootings," the Hyde Park legislator said.

Co-sponsor Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) agreed the bill reflects the changing nature of gang activity.

"[Gangs] can be block by block. They can be side-of-street by side-of-street," he said. "Because they're more splintered, they can be using social media to organize their violent acts."

Mitchell, who lives in Bronzeville, emphasized that social media flash mobs are "symptoms of a broader issue," and tax revenue from Michigan Avenue retail supports programs that keep young people form turning to crime.

"We cannot cede our streets, we cannot cede our major metropolitan areas to violence as we try to address the issues that ware causing them to happen," he said.

Wicker Park residents Jolly Raizada, 38, and her husband Vivek Garg, 39, stopped while walking down Michigan Avenue Saturday to watch Quinn sign the bill.

Raizada said she's seen a group of teens flood a Michigan Avenue shop — stealing items en masse — but didn't think Quinn's bill would help deter the crime.

"Shoving the people into the jails is not the answer," she said.

Downtown resident Emily Haag, 27, who lives on Michigan Avenue, said she thinks the bill will deter crime, though she doesn't see it as a problem on the high-profile street.

"Ironically, I feel I'm safest on Michigan Avenue — It's the most lit," she said.