A couple of weeks ago as I headed to my generally quiet street on the way back from the shopping center, I heard a chorus of upset female voices on my street. The screams were so loud and erratic I half wondered if a Hollywood film crew that was in town filming a mafia story had come to my neighborhood to stage a rumble scene.
As I headed to my house I saw no cameras, lights or big, white sound trucks but instead saw 15 to 20 teen girls, some of them a little older, involved in a massive street fight. Blocking the street was an SUV with its doors opened that apparently one girl had driven up in and then ditched so that she could jump into the field of battle. Along the sidewalk were a few parked cars filled with girls screaming the B word along with other four letter epithets we hear 24/7 in this rage-filled decade. I also noticed that different girls had taken over different parts of the street, scattered about out in individual fights.
It was total mayhem and anarchy and not the mafia at all but classic Jerry Springer.
I've never seen a street rumble in my life, not to mention 20 girls dividing themselves up into punching couples and throwing fast and furious underhanded punches while other girls pulled hair and ran in circles looking for more hair to pull. Luckily I got to my door before the real mayhem broke out; but as a neighbor told me later, "I thought you were going to get pummeled."
Some neighbors, shocked or intrigued by the bizarre sight of 20 girls gone wild and throwing civility to the winds, stood on their stoops to observe. A few young guys, perhaps somewhat familiar with street scenes far more hardcore, seemed to be enjoying the ruckus and taped the hair pulling rumble on cell phones and other gadgets.
I watched as one girl ran up to another in a parked car and tried to pull her out by her hair. Ouch!
Through it all I tried to discern what the problem was. Can anyone make sense out of a rumble? If I had had the power to stop the rumble in mid-motion and ask each girl what they were fighting for, would they be able to answer?
Was there an attempt to negotiate a peace before this little bit of street violence? Imagine the kind of world it would be if nations were similarly hotheaded.
At one point during the rumble, I overheard one girl say to a friend, "Come on, we can't do this forever, some of us have jobs to go to."
Although there were no weapons involved, anytime a crowd of angry people -- male, female, or a mixture of the two -- erupts into a fist fighting mass, expect the unexpected. It takes just one person to up the ante, that one wrong punch that hits a person "just so," leading to a fall on the cement and/or perhaps unconsciousness and then to the dreaded inevitable dark result that everybody involved will come to regret.
Death can and does happen that fast.
Philadelphians especially will recall the murder of Eddie Polec in Philadelphia's Northeast section in 1994. Polec's brutal murder was the result of a planned rumble between two warring factions of teen boys from the Fox Chase and Abington neighborhoods. The rumble, which had been planned a week in advance, started outside a McDonald's with some 50 teens and ended with Polec's death in front of a church, where he once sang in the choir. The crime was so horrific it was covered by the New York Times. When a Times reporter asked one of the assailants why he struck Polec three times with a baseball bat, the teen said, "I don't know. I just got caught up in all the excitement."
While the relatively benign rumble on my street was over in 25 minutes (the police came two minutes after it had dispersed), I got to thinking how and why girls like this become so unhinged. After all, they looked like the girls I see on the streets everyday, the types of girls who might work at the local supermarket. There wore no leather jackets or chains; they were ordinary "blend in" girls, the daughters of nice neighbors who also "blend in."
I did a little research on teen and especially all-girl violence to see if this sort of thing was a trend. What I found was eye-opening.
A clinical psychologist in Rhode Island says that he's noticed an increase of violence among teen girls in the last ten years. Barry Plummer states that boys tend to show signs of conduct disorder while still in childhood, while girls are more likely "to experience the onset of conduct disorder during teenage years."
A University of Connecticut study maintains that although teenage boys are exposed to more violence than girls, "girls tend to be more negatively affected by these experiences than boys." The study concluded that girls exposed to violence are more prone to mentally remove themselves from their surroundings, "a symptom that can eventually lead to suicidal thoughts down the road."
A focus group on teen violence conducted by the Pediatric Academic Societies offered that "Teens who fight may be modeling what they see adult relatives do or have a parent with pro-fighting attitudes." PAS also interviewed 65 middle and high school students and asked them why they fight. The boys said they fought to defend themselves or to regain respect while the girls cited gossip or jealousy as the reasons.
Of course, the best solution to averting violence is to walk away or to ignore insults that are meant to do harm. One can also joke to diffuse tension. To do this takes some willpower and saying No to acting impulsively.
While I cannot answer for my neighbors, for me, seeing this "soft" rumble was a reminder that huge crowds of roving people in the city is rarely a good thing, unless it's an organized class trip, a bird watching expedition, or an AARP group headed to the golf course.
Of course, traveling in numbers has been advocated by some as a way for people to protect themselves against random acts of violence in the city. But I don't buy it. Large clusters of people taking over the sidewalks always makes me want to cross to the opposite side of the street, whether they be teens, missionaries armed with pamphlets, or the huge assemblies of college kids that stream out of the subway every Friday night on their way for a little bit of revelry and play at the local clubs.