The problem of Philadelphia’s violent teen mobs is the biggest hot-button issue of the summer and one that Charles A. Williams III, an educational psychologist and director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence, has been spending a lot of time thinking about lately. He sat down with me last week for a wide-ranging conversation that touched on Mayor Nutter, juvenile curfews and hip-hop.
Jen: Someone needs to open a can of whoop-ass on flash-mob hooligans, right?
Charles: They really need a hug more than an ass-whipping. That’s going to be my new campaign, “Hugs, not ass-whippings.”
The toughest kid is always the biggest baby and the one always in need of love and a hug. They tend to be smarter than you think–more aware than you think and more malleable.
Jen: Yeah, but when you read about random beatdowns and thefts, you forget that.
Charles: The research says you’ve got to be careful about corporal punishment, because it can teach kids that violence is a solution, and it’s not.
Charles: What are they really missing? Positive role models. The black family is in worse shape than it has ever been . . . because family today is an option. It wasn’t in the past. You’ve got baby mamas, baby dads, kids raising themselves. I’m driving home at night at 1 o’clock in the morning from doing what young adults do and I’ve got 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds cutting me off on a bike or just walking. “Where the hell are you coming from? Who let you out at night?”
Jen: A lot of folks assume flash mobs have something to do with race, but I don’t hear them saying the same thing about rioting in London.
Charles: It’s racial to the point that you’re talking about poor black kids who want attention. That’s how it’s racial. A disproportionate number of them are suffering economically, socially, politically, spiritually–that’s how it’s racial . . . but if you look at what’s happening in London, it’s a community of people in need. It’s, like, b——, pay attention to me. And if you won’t, then “I’ve got something for you.”
Jen: What about the curfew for teens?
Charles: I like that. Some people don’t. . . . If [the flash-mobs thing] starts during the school year, I’m going to tell the mayor to make it 7 o’clock.