The aberration routine

I've posted repeatedly about two attacks (one fatal) on Philadelphia's SEPTA commuters in barely over a week.

My last post was on Saturday. Little did I know at the time that there had been yet a third attack the night before:

In the third attack on or near SEPTA in Center City in 10 days, three men wearing black wigs assaulted and robbed a 30-year-old Southwest Philadelphia man riding the Market-Frankford El late Friday.

SEPTA police couldn't catch the suspects in the 11:35 p.m. incident as quickly as they nabbed those in an 8 p.m. attack Wednesday, just two days earlier.

Friday night's victim, whose name is being withheld by police, had to climb two flights of steps to report the assault and robbery of $20 to a cashier at the stop on 15th and Market streets, according to Richard Maloney, SEPTA spokesman.

By the time the cashier reported it to SEPTA police, the Market-Frankford train had traveled to 30th Street and the wig-wearing trio were nowhere to be found, Maloney said.

At that time of night, Maloney added that there may have been fewer SEPTA police on duty.

As SEPTA riders express fear for their safety, Mayor Nutter said Commissioner Charles Ramsey was working closely with SEPTA to enhance security.

The three attacks appear to be unrelated, police said.

Maloney called the attacks "real aberrations."

"For years we have been dealing with teens and deploy SEPTA police based on the time of school dismissals. They are usually boisterous and loud," he added. "There's bullying, but now, there's more presence of girls in these things," he added.

On Friday night, the three wig-wearers had boarded the train at 13th and Market streets, and immediately demanded money from the victim. One suspect struck the victim in the face and grabbed $20, before the victim got off at 15th and Market, after only one stop, police said.

(Emphasis added.)

Aberrations? That's what Maloney said after the first and second attacks.

And now it's the third attack, and as if he's reading from a prepared script, Maloney is calling it an aberration again.

If I may liberally recontexualize Senator Dirksen's famous fake but accurate quote, an aberration here, an aberration there, and pretty soon we're talking about a genuinely aberrational pattern!

While the latest attack was a little slow to make it into the Inquirer, the above was in the Daily News, and NBC called the series of attacks a "scary and disturbing trend." Interestingly, NBC does not quote Maloney's "aberration" routine; instead they quote a spokesman who cites the difficulty of policing the children:

"You can have three cops in one area. The kids will keep moving until they get to a spot where there isn't a cop and just assault the next person who comes by," said SEPTA Public Safety Director Jim Jordan.
The latest attack (which occurred on Friday) not only made it into today's Inquirer in a front page piece, but SEPTA seems to have backed away from the earlier contention that the attacks were "aberrations."
Crime data show that serious crime on SEPTA property is up 81 percent between 2004 and 2007. Jim Jordan, head of public safety for SEPTA, said the vast majority of complaints concern teenagers using the system after school.
Hmm... Does that mean aberrations are up 81 percent?

While security has been beefed up, the SEPTA spokesman seems to think that this is just a blip, and that in the summer, the attacks will die down:

"Schoolkids can be very disruptive and appear very threatening," Jordan said, adding that there are fewer problems in the summer when there are fewer teens going to school. "A major concern for us is people feeling safe."
Feeling safe is more important than being safe, because if people don't feel safe, they might drive instead of using public transportation. Or worse yet, they might look for employment outside of Philadelphia, in places where they don't have to fear being attacked by "the children."
Yesterday's move follows three recent attacks in or near subway stations, including the March 26 death of Sean Patrick Conroy, 36, a Starbucks manager in Center City. He was beaten and kicked on the Market-Frankford subway concourse at 13th and Market Streets and suffered a fatal asthma attack during the assault.

Five Simon Gratz High School students are charged as adults with murder in Conroy's death.

Conroy's father, Steve Conroy, said he was glad to see SEPTA shore up policing but called it "a day late and dollar short" for his son.

"If they're doing it on overtime, that says to me it is a temporary thing that eventually will be forgotten," Conroy said. He said extra police protection needs to be sustained.

Considering that the transit police can't really protect anyone or prevent crime, I think the more citizens carry concealed, the better. It might take a couple of highly publicized self defense incidents to send a message to the "children."

What kind of children rampage in stations and attack commuters, anyway? The kind who attack their teachers and break their jaws and their necks, perhaps?

Hey, this isn't just my idle thought; that's what the Philadelphia "children" were doing to their teachers just one year ago.

I'm thinking that a common factor might be Philadelphia's education aberration.

(Or maybe the kids have just decided to treat commuters like teachers. I wish these aberrations didn't have to go mainstream.)

MORE: Glenn Reynolds recently linked a classic post which discusses (among other things) the idea of turning predators into protectors:

Very nearly all the violence that plagues, rather than protects, society is the work of young males between the ages of fourteen and thirty. A substantial amount of the violence that protects rather than plagues society is performed by other members of the same group. The reasons for this predisposition are generally rooted in biology, which is to say that they are not going anywhere, in spite of the current fashion that suggests doping half the young with Ritalin.

The question is how to move these young men from the first group (violent and predatory) into the second (violent, but protective). This is to ask: what is the difference between a street gang and the Marine Corps, or a thug and a policeman? In every case, we see that the good youths are guided and disciplined by old men. This is half the answer to the problem.

But do we not try to discipline and guide the others? If we catch them at their menace, don't we put them into prisons or programs where they are monitored, disciplined, and exposed to "rehabilitation"? The rates of recidivism are such that we can't say that these programs are successful at all, unless the person being "rehabilitated" wants and chooses to be. And this is the other half of the answer: the discipline and guidance must be voluntarily accepted. The Marine enlists; the criminal must likewise choose to accept what is offered.

The problem with so many of the "boot camp" style approaches is that the people who are sent to them are not necessarily willing to make the commitment it takes to go from predator to protector, and it is folly to pretend that they are. (Although the circumstances are different, it's a bit like trying to force an alcoholic or addict into "recovery.") I don't think these approaches will work unless and until the individual decides for himself that he wants to make the change. Only at that point can the "dangerous old men" in the protector class really help.

You can lead a dangerous young predator to a dangerous old protector, but you cannot make him think.

posted by Eric on 04.08.08 at 07:29 AM


It is not just Philly. When I was growing up in Omaha (pop 150,000) we had about 1 murder a week.

Now (pop about 350,000) there are to 3 or 4 drive bys a day in black neighborhoods.

Add to that about 1 a day in Hispanic neighborhoods.

It is probably a nationwide phenomenon.

M. Simon   ·  April 8, 2008 9:32 AM

Without doing a detailed statistical analysis, it would appear that Philadelphia has not had the renaissance in law enforcement that occurred in New York City. The murder rate in Philadelphia is 25.6, compared to New York’s 6.6. (per 100,000 inhabitants), with a property crime rate about twice that of New York’s.

As I recall, one of the starting points in turning New York around was a rigid enforcement of petty crime on the subway. It turned out that many of the people jumping turnstiles in NYC also had outstanding warrants.
But the problems in Philadelphia will not be solved by a one-time campaign. This needs a systemic turnaround. What has been the reaction in Philly to hiring people from the NYPD?

Gringo   ·  April 8, 2008 10:44 AM

Well, the answer is obvious. The subways are dangerous and must be banned, that's always so very effective. Oh, yea, one more thing, it's President Bush's fault. This is the end result, one of them at least, of filling the inner cities with people, and their children, whom have no self respect and whom care not the consequences of their actions. Because, ultimately, some nitwit social activist will excuse those behaviours because of some perceived inequality somewhere, sometime.

Edward Lunny   ·  April 8, 2008 5:05 PM

The Solution We Dare Not Use

Let the citizenry arm themselves and use deadly force when threatened. But that means letting people take responsibility for their own protection, and could lead to them becoming self-reliant. Can't have that now.

Alan Kellogg   ·  April 8, 2008 5:33 PM

Jerry Pournelle's military sci-fi shows one way to make dangerous predators into dangerous protectors - show the predator that the protectors are a bigger, badder gang than the predator has any hope of beating.

Anthony   ·  April 8, 2008 5:58 PM

So one attack occurs at 11:35 pm and another around 8 pm and they're chalking it up to rowdy kids after school? Their school schedules must be "aberrations."

the wolf   ·  April 9, 2008 2:23 PM

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