Like most products sprung from the inception of the Internet, flash mobs began innocently enough as a methodology for tech-savvy groups to congregate for the purpose of artistic expression, entertainment, and social engagement. 

As with most of mankind’s endeavors contrived for legitimate means, however, these innovations can and have been modified for other, sometimes illicit intentions.

A case in point is the transition of what originally was a way for like minded folks to enjoy common interests into an apparatus for the planning and execution of criminal enterprise. This passage wasn’t an abrupt shift from innocence to delinquency: Its metamorphosis included a stage wherein it enabled peaceful protest in keeping with the noble traditions of Dr. Martin Luther King.

This in turn became a mixed blessing, as disaffected citizens used social media to coordinate protests to voice their dissatisfaction with the polarizing politics of Donald J. Trump, while oppositional elements used this same technology as a means to conduct surveillance on these law-abiding dissidents.

From peaceful protest to

crimes of opportunity

Further on down (or perhaps on the opposite end of) the spectrum of morality, the less well-meaning elements of humanity realized this new technology could be used for the acquisition of ill-gotten gains. Hence, “flash mob” the social experiment begun as a benign form of spontaneous fellowship, segued into a means for people to gather and engage in behavior they might not individually tackle, as in “smash and grab.”

Organized groups of people—not necessarily criminally disposed—began the pattern of assembling in affluent areas to break into retail stores (officially dubbed “organized retail theft”) and carrying away expensive merchandise. These were upscale venues across the country including local businesses in the Beverly Center, The Grove, the Westfield Mall in Topanga Canyon, and so on. 

These perpetrators generally wore masks, but at least a few were identified as bonafide gang members, including a scenario in which two Rollin’ 30s Crips members were convicted of stealing a $500,000 Richard Mille watch at gunpoint from a man lunching in the outdoor patio of an upscale Beverly Hills eatery on March 4, 2021.

Most recently, unidentified thieves used sledgehammers to smash windows and steal $5 million worth of jewelry from Luxury Jewels of Beverly Hills last month. As with any negative trend, a silver lining of sorts accompanied these deplorable activities. Retailers began employing large Black men behind the counters of these high-end shops as a deterrent. In this they may be emulating the penchant of high profile celebrities. A quick glance at any red carpet function will reveal the rich and famous in the company of dark hued bodyguards of the big and tall variety.

All of this just re-enforces the age-old bugaboo of racial anxiety. The perennial hot button issue of crime (and its underlying subtext of race, which is just below the surface) is once again a fixture in the next mayoral race on Nov. 8, still months away.

Deep-pocket candidate Rick Caruso seems to have an inside track with the affluent and politically powerful west side and San Fernando Valley. Toward that end, he is stoking concerns among his constituents, a fear based in reality as documented by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

Fleecing the rich in the lands of opportunity 

In a bygone era of the late 20th century, crack addiction reigned supreme as the wretched under its sway scrambled to feed their cravings. In those days this often meant moving out of the ‘hood towards the ocean, and what were called “The Lands” (as in “Lands of Opportunity”). Here were fertile hunting grounds of streets lined with late model cars more than likely containing briefcases, laptops, and other marketable goodies.

Moving ahead a few decades, this same area remains a prime target for predators from the south. Gangbangers who previously orchestrated the blizzard of cocaine that blanketed Los Angeles now dispatch their underlings north in search of items to fence on the black-market. 

Not content to focus on retail outlets with the obstacles of security personnel and electronic systems, the net has been widened to include “follow home” robberies, wherein hapless victims are trailed after shopping sprees then relieved of their belongings as they reach their houses. 

Maximum profit with minimum risk

“Why sell cocaine if prices are super high and you (can) get 10 to 30 (prison sentences) years? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why you switch gears.”

—An anonymous gang member in an interview with Arabic-language news outlet Al Jazeera.

She’d been seen by early morning commuters near the Manchester on-ramp of the 110 Freeway around 8 a.m. on a Saturday. By the time authorities retrieved her body, they determined that 16- year-old Tioni Theus had been shot in the neck on Sunday, Jan. 8. By most accounts, the teenager was a solid student with extracurricular pursuits in dance and golf. Her mother’s hospitalization following an automobile accident and other family issues may have placed additional emotional strain on this impressionable adolescent.

Preliminary inquiries suggest this misfortune may have been the after effect of human trafficking, an increasingly common occurance in the South Los Angeles nieghborhood where she resided. Community activists quickly sized upon the scarce media attention her demise received, especially compared to the situation involving White coed Brianna Kupfer, who was murdered on Jan. 13 while employed at an upscale furniture store in the stylish confines of Hancock Park. 

The alleged assailant, an African-American transient, was quickly apprehended and charged within a week of Kupfer’s death, while no arrests have been made in the earlier homicide.

Meanwhile, gossip around Theus’ death has been a hot topic on public transportation in the inner city. Among the topics discussed were the possibility of poor parenting to the incorrigibility of contemporary youth. One casual observer noted the expansion of underaged girls beyond the usual “ho-strolls” along the Figueroa and Western Avenue corridors.

“They be doin’ business all on them lit’l side streets-if you drive down Figueroa you can see ‘em,” the observer said. “If you stop for too long they’re all up on you!”

Long before gangbangers took up the trade, Los Angeles had traditionally been just another stop in the “West Coast Track.” Old school pimps established this sex-for-cash pipeline that extends north along the I-5 (short for the Interstate 5 freeway) through Oakland, Portland, Ore., and on into Washington state then past the Canadian border into Vancouver, B. C. 

A frequent visitor at gentleman’s clubs and strip joints throughout South Los Angeles, the observer noticed the transition taking place a few years ago, when city ordinances closed three such establishments at the intersection of Rosecrans and Western Avenues. 

Street gangs moved in to fill the void of a lifestyle impacted by the advent of the coronavirus. These included various factions of the Crips and Bloods, although rumors circulate about the intrusion of sets from the East such as Chicago’s Almighty Vice Lord Nation. 

Just as the general media glamorized Los Angeles gang culture and spawned scores of imitators, social media promotes the stripper lifestyle, which attracts females of low self-esteem, who seek masculine attention in any form. Chart topping rappers T.I. and Drake solidified this culture with the song “Poppin’ Bottles,” its lyrics a pagan ode to hedonism and partying to excess.

National threat assessments from no less an authority than the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate that these street gangs may be growing up, continuing the search for commerce yielding higher profits and lower legal risk. These new ventures include bitcoin investment, credit card fraud, mortgage fraud and identity theft.

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