The events of Saturday night came as a surprise to the police and law-abiding citizens of Ocoee, Florida, as a horde of some 900 black teenagers — including even middle-school students — rushed the movie theater at the West Oaks Mall. The riot was evidently organized on social media weeks in advance. WKMG News in Orlando is one of the few news outlets to cover that aspect of the story, or show clips from the large number of smartphone videos of the incident taken by eyewitnesses:
According to WKMG’s report, a mob of nearly a thousand black kids flooded the mall and tried to storm the movie theater, with some 200 to 300 of them getting inside before the security gates were closed. In the ensuing chaos, at least one gunshot was fired. Fortunately, no one appears to have been injured.
“Everybody just started scattering, ducking underneath the seats,” said one theater patron. “It was a scary moment.”
Another moviegoer named Jessical Weckerly, who was trying to enjoy a rare evening out with her husband, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “It was like a herd of elephants coming up the corridor and racing up the stairwell. Just bum-rushed the entire theater.” She said her “anxiety hit the roof” as she and her husband tried to figure out an escape route.
“It almost seemed like they wanted to arrest some authority, like, ‘we’re taking over,'” said her husband, Brian.
The Ocoee and Winter Garden police put together a coordinated response and arrested two juveniles, one for battery and resisting an officer without violence, the other for misdemeanor drug charges.
“Kids show up with guns, shooting guns in the air, robbing people, stolen cars, drugs — that’s a big concern to us,” said Lt. Paul Hopkins of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the WKMG report, police focused on restoring order inside the mall first, causing “the real violence” to break out among the huge throng of black teens in the parking lot outside, while the rioters inside began fighting each other. At least one robbery was also reported in the mall parking lot, and a stolen car was recovered.
Although few local or national American news outlets have reported this detail, the UK Daily Mail adds that the chaos “spread from the mall to a nearby Taco Bell, to a gas station where the students were stealing goods and trying to fight the store’s owner.”
The identity and motives of the “teens” remain completely mysterious; not a single reporter seems interested in asking why they did this, beyond vague (and ridiculous) assertions that they wanted to get into the movies for free. (Does any teen thug actually think the films would keep rolling in a theater after a mob violently invaded it?)
WKMG mentioned that something “similar” happened last year, but that incident is also completely enigmatic to the media. A thousand black teenagers storm a mall in a coordinated assault put together on Facebook and Twitter, and the press tells us absolutely nothing about them, with few outlets even bothering to mention the coordination at all. The few news organizations that do mention the online activity of the rioters don’t bother to show any of it to the audience. There are sporadic mentions of phone pictures and video taken by both the rioters and eyewitnesses, but we don’t get to see any of that, either, aside from a few quick snippets shown by WKMG.
Isn’t the press supposed to work hard to uncover and report the facts behind such a big story? I have no insinuations in mind by reporting the glaring omission of details about this remarkable story, which isn’t getting a lot of national media play. I heard about it because I live in Florida, and the more I started digging into the story, the more glaring the absence of details became. Who are these kids, why did they do this, and what were they saying to each other online before nearly a thousand of them descended on the West Oaks Mall? What are they saying to each other today on Facebook and Twitter? Isn’t finding and reporting the answers to such questions Journalism 101, especially if the people of Ocoee, and other communities, need to be on the looking for similar events occurring in the future?