On Friday night, September 5, a group of around 100 unruly teenagers left the Labor Day Weekend Kiponas Festival along Riverfront Park in Harrisburg and headed up Front St towards Midtown, Harrisburg. The group of teenagers vandalized a handful of cars, a gas station mini-mart and one ended up shooting himself in the leg when a gun went off. The group of teenagers that went through the Midtown neighborhoods were predominantly African American, and the social media responses to the incident shows a cross-section to the racial tensions in the city’s Midtown Section.
Before the event occurred, I happened to join the social media network Nextdoor because it was recommended to me a couple of days prior to the incident. After I joined the network, a post “Mob a Black Youths” was published describing something someone witnessed a couple of blocks away from where I am living, and the commenter stated:
Mob of black youths running down 1100 block of N Front St., just north of Forster St. around 9:15. They banged on our door & scared the life out of me. I went to the door & there was over one hundred of them. They were knocking down road horses & such as they passed. We called 911 but never saw any police. Be alert for knocked over stuff.
Later on in the thread, an article linked to Pennlive’s description of the group, “a mob of youths,” was not good enough for some in the thread, and the article was criticized for not pointing out that the teenagers were black. This is where the thread spirals from here. Some of the fallout from the argument has at least one person stating that they’re leaving the app altogether because of the racist comments that have been recently posted in the community.
One questions if the kids came from the 3-on-3 basketball tournament that happened earlier in the day, which ended hours earlier, and others stand up for the original commenter for precisely describing those who did it. In particular one person described it as not a race issue, but as a “parenting issue.” A back and forth ensure with lots of rhetorical questions that beat around the race issue.
In a the Midtown Harrisburg Facebook group, one poster blamed the police chief because the police at the festival allowed to the group to disperse without anyone following them, which I agree with, but then regular tropes about the lack of parenting are brought up. One person mockingly brought up a parenting issue and suggested that if you “cant control [sic] them” then you should “cage them in the cellar like animals,” because “chances are that some of the parents actually encourage this stuff.”
I grew up in the Juniata section of Philadelphia, used to walk from my house on H and Hunting Park Ave to the Erie Torresdale station on the Blue Line or take a bus to some of that regions more notorious drug dens to catch the El to go to high school. I moved to Harrisburg’s Midtown neighborhood in January and not once have I felt threatened. There have been plenty of nights where I have left a bar, party or walking with friends from the area of the Capitol up through various parts of Midtown or Uptown and I have been fine.
If there is one thing that is most surprising about this whole episode, it is the fact that people voiced their concerns with very little anonymity. This wasn’t the comments section on Pennlive, which some believed did a better job at reporting about the incident than the actual news organization, but this acts as a cross-section in a particular moment in time because it was done on two social media spaces that are meant to spark a dialogue or conversation with your neighbors – the literal existence of Nextdoor – or your peers on Facebook. If that is the case and something like this happens again, it would be interesting to see how these spaces interact with each other because there may very well be some underlying racial tensions in the Midtown Neighborhoods.