Center City Park
Greensboro, N.C. - You've probably heard of the term "flash mob." It's when groups of people use social media to pick a place to meet up and often sing a song or do a dance. Usually, those gatherings are fun.
But, some are turning violent. It's happening all over the nation in places like Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Now, it's happening right here in the Triad.
Greensboro police say mobs of violent teens are meeting up on the weekends and wreaking havoc downtown. Police say it's getting worse each weekend.
This past weekend, a former mayor had his business vandalized and another community leader got beat up in Center City Park.
"One of the teenagers came up from behind and just punched me in the back and kicked me and knocked me to the floor. Then, he just continued to kick me, punch me, step on me. People were screaming," Mitchel Sommers, executive director of the Community Theatre of Greensboro said.
The swarm came from nowhere and the beating lasted seconds.
"Within a minute, I'd say, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds...I'm not being dramatic...hundreds of young people...just came descending upon this area," he said. "There were so many young people. I would say all the way from across Elm Street all the way to the park. You couldn't even get out of the swarm of young people."
Tuesday afternoon was the first time Sommers returned to Center City Park since last weekend's attack.
"All these young people have nothing to do but to head downtown and beat up a 58 year old guy minding his own business in the park," Sommers said.
While Mitchel's story sounds unusual. It isn't.
"There are a lot of people coming to the park as a result of social media," Greensboro Police Lt. JT Cranford said.
Every weekend in July, Greensboro police have battled large, flash-mob beatings and vandalism
Sommers said, "I think we underestimate the power of Facebook. How else can you amass such a large group of people in such a quick way?"
Texts, Tweets and Facebook posts tell teens when to be at the park. Then, the violence begins.
Greensboro's former mayor and current Carolina Theatre president found a planter in pieces the same night of Sommers' attack.
"It's going to cost us a lot of money to replace them. It happened right out here in front of everyone," Keith Holliday, Carolina Theatre President and CEO, said.
Lt. Cranford says police know these gatherings are a problem. "It's a significant issue for us because more often than not, we're vastly outnumbered by the kinds of crowds we're trying to deal with," he said.
Sommers wants to be part of the solution.
"It's not going to scare me from coming downtown. It's going to motivate me to find other ways to get people engaged and thinking differently than the way they were thinking that night," Sommers said.
Greensboro Police will be out early Friday and Saturday evening with four to six extra officers, trying to stop these violent flash mobs before they get started.
Downtown leaders say they don't want to discourage people from visiting downtown, but they want everyone to be careful.
WFMY News 2