WASHINGTON- With a cell phone in one hand and a group of cheerleaders on the sideline, teenagers can easily make a fight viral in less than 30 seconds.
Washington, D.C. Metro riders are all too familiar with this as two brutal fights involving youth surfaced on local and national blog sites.
Two recorded fights on the Metro transit system surfaced on blog sites UnsuckDCMetro, DMVallaccess.com and Worldstarhiphop.com this year, drawing national attention.
“They only seem to attack people when they are in groups,” said Ashley Pierce, 20, a Metro rider and student at Trinity Washington University. “They are mostly high school groups between ninth and 11th grade.”
Pierce said she witnessed a fight in November 2010 in which a teenager “just kept attacking” a passenger while another person recorded, which she said occurs often.
There’s a spike in violence on the transit system, according to the security report released Feb. 24 by the Metro Transit Police Department. Aggravated assaults were up 49 percent in 2010 compared to 2009. There were 113 more robbery incidents—stolen electronic devices—in 2010. However, of the 2,012 arrests made last year, only 507 were youths.
Unsuck DC Metro, a blog which first reported the popular viral video of two teens striking each other, does not believe the social media frenzy has led to an increase in violence.
“ don’t think social media is a factor,” founder Curtis E. Flush said. According to Flush, who also created the iMetro blog, there has not been an increase in violence-related video submissions. “ too few to say, really. Obviously, since almost everyone has a camera now, there’s more opportunity to film.”
Trends among submissions include frustration with trains, escalators and rude Metro employees, the founder said. Those who send tips, pictures and videos receive no perks, such as money.
Chief Michael Taborn of D.C.’s Metro Transit Police Department told the Washington Metropolitan Area
Transit Authority (WMATA) board the Metro system is a “social vehicle for a lot of groups, a lot of young people.”
There’s an increase of activity among youth on the weekend and when the weather is warm, Taborn added.
As a result of the recent report and viral videos, the department is “in the process of redeploying police officers.”
Additionally, Guardian Angels, a local watchdog group, is expanding Metro patrols in wake of viral videos.
According to the non-partisan fact tank, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 96 percent of 18-to-29- year-olds own a cell phone, making it more likely young passengers will record unusual incidents. However, Lee Rainie, director of the organization, compared society’s obsession with recording confrontations to complaints made with photojournalism.
A person may record a crime instead of helping, and some people may have a problem with that, Rainie said.
“There’s been a longstanding issue in the world of photojournalism,” he added. “We’re in the age where everyone can be a publisher.”
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will make changes to the DC One Card, which allows public school secondary students to access the Metro, along with checking out books and access to recreation centers.
According to Taborn, the student’s name and school will be identified on the card. Changes will go into effect this fall, beginning with students that attend School Without Walls Senior High School.
“If we were to get a card that limits their ability to travel, one it would save money and it would cause them to use their own monies to travel,” Taborn said in response to a board member’s call for curfew limitations on the card.
Rainie said it may be difficult to develop a program that will curb teen violence, especially if results are wanted immediately. “People are looking to their peers than authorities,” he said.
Additionally, he said, recording an incident may do as much good as harm.
“Documenting the problem may be as helpful,” he said. “Whether these technologies have extra power to make people do good things is questionable.”