Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Social Media Wins the Day

Last Thursday's brutal attack on two gay men near Rittenhouse Square was slow to make traction in the news. The papers buried it under stories about casinos sixty miles away and when it found its way on television, it was wedged between the weather and puff pieces.

One of the victims suffered skull fractures, a deep laceration on the face, and has his jaw will be wired shut for eight weeks.

However, the Philadelphia Police Department and the online community took it a little less lightly. After the police released very clear video surveillance footage of ten to twelve suspects, social media proved just how little we rely on newspapers and the six o'clock news. Even more, it proved just how swift we can be when we work together.

In a matter of hours, Facebook and Twitter turned these suspects into Philadelphia's Most Wanted. The Citizens Crime Commission initially offered a $1000 reward for information on the suspects, followed by three local businesses putting a $10,000 bounty on their freedom.

For a few tense hours, ten to twelve of the tristate's worst citizens must have been shitting their pants as they watched their faces walk across surprisingly clear surveillance footage. But that's when things took a 21st Century twist and went all Justice Leaguey, virtually speaking.

Shortly after posting the video on his Twitter feed, @greggybennett, former cast member of Real Housewives of New Jersey received and posted a photograph from a "friend of a friend of a friend" that showed a group of individuals matching those in the surveillance footage. 

The red vest is undeniable, and several others can be clearly made in the rest of the surveillance video.
It was almost immediately retweeted by @FanSince09. Minutes later followers had noted that the restaurant was Rittenhouse's La Viola. 

@FanSince09 used Facebook Graph Search to find profiles checked in at La Viola prior to the attack and managed to match a number of faces and clothing to the surveillance footage and the photograph which, at the time, was still available on Facebook and conveniently tagged by a few of the suspects.

By the time Detective Joseph Murray was contacted by @FanSince09, the hunt was essentially over. Late last night, lawyers representing a few of the suspects had contacted the PPD to make arrangements to surrender to questioning this morning. The police have not yet announced any arrests or additional information, short of deserved praise for @FanSince09, @greggybennett, and social media in general.

Despite the excitement that unfolded last night and the expectations many may have had this morning, Murray was quick to remind everyone that this is not an episode of Law & Order. With upwards of fifteen suspects likely to be brought in for questioning, it will take time to interview them all and sift through the evidence. It may be days, even a week, before arrests can be made.

As it is, it looks good for the victims (at least in terms of justice) and bad for those who chose to lawyer up late last night. Unfortunately, hate crime legislation that includes LGBT victims was struck down in 2002 and failed again in 2009. As it stands, the maximum sentence for aggravated assault that causes, or attempts to cause, serious bodily injury is twenty years and $25,000.

Without clear footage of the attack, it may seem it would be hard to prove which suspects were directly responsible for the injuries. However, given the large group of suspects, there is no question that two or more will sing like canaries and sell out their friends. And given the outrage spanning the nation last night, no District Attorney can afford to tread lightly. 

In the mean time, let's all sit back and think about the victims and their families. And on a slightly lesser note, what it's like to be part of a socially networked group of superheroes bent on spending their evenings hunting down the villains trying to ruin our Great City.

Molly's Daily Kiss

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