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Wis. State Fair Latest Target Of Violent Flash Mobs

JACKI LYDEN, host: You've heard the term flash mobs. There have been several incidents of flash-mob violence around the country this summer - Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and more recently, at the Wisconsin State Fair. The fair is held is next door to Milwaukee's downtown, in the suburb of West Allis. On Thursday August the 4th, on the fair's opening night, scores of teenagers attacked fairgoers and motorists on the adjoining freeway.

Eugene Kane is a metro columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and he joins us now. Welcome to the show, Eugene Kane.

EUGENE KANE: Thank you, Jacki. Glad to be with you.

LYDEN: So can you please tell me what happened on the opening night of the fair?

KANE: It was, essentially, an incident with young African-American kids who had attended either the fair or the midway, which is the entertainment section. And fights broke out on the fairgrounds, and the fights were between the kids themselves. But at some point, the fighting spread outside of the grounds of the fair - and at that point became a racial incident with black kids basically targeting and attacking and in some case, robbing predominantly white fairgoers. So it was a pretty disturbing dynamic for people to see happen.

LYDEN: How is this being perceived in Milwaukee? Are black and white citizens perceiving this differently?

KANE: I think it is perceived differently. I think most people are outraged about it, black and white. I think what happens, though, in the black community is that there becomes a sort of shared sense of shame and finger-pointing at young black youth - which to be honest, Milwaukee, like a lot of major cities, has a lot of black-on-black crime anyway. But yet when their trouble kind of spreads out to the white community, then it becomes a much more sensational story. So I understand that because there are a lot of white communities that have never seen this kind of violence before whereas in the black community, there are some black neighborhoods in Milwaukee that go through this kind of stuff all the time.

LYDEN: I just want to ask, do you think these kids - in one of your columns you said - are displaying power as they know it?

KANE: Well, yeah. That is one of my theories, which - what I see is, they act out in public, particularly in places like shopping malls and places where white people are around, because I think a lot of times, what they realize is that there are white people who are just naturally afraid of them.

LYDEN: My understanding is that fair attendance is not only back to normal, it's gone up. There are more police and security on the grounds.

KANE: This is a popular event. It's the Wisconsin State Fair. It's in a tradition of, you know, the Dairy Land State. And I have to admit, it has never really been all that much on diversity.

LYDEN: Do you think the fair should become more diverse?

KANE: Well, I think part of the problem in Milwaukee - and a lot of communities with these young black kids who act out - is because, I think, they really do find themselves in these unfamiliar situations. And it's like anything else. I mean, they are just as ignorant about white people as white people are about them, in some respects. So if both groups got more interaction and got to know each other better, I've always said that that's a good way to eliminate any problems - for more diversity all over.

LYDEN: Well, Eugene Kane, thank you. It's been a real pleasure speaking to you.

KANE: Thank you for the invitation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.