The first time I went to Snopes.com, I thought the internet would become the miracle cure for urban legends. I especially hated the outright lies, like the one about gang members going around with their car headlights off and shooting you if you flash them. I thought access to information would help the truth prevail. OK, you can stop laughing at me.
Now the kids think there are going to be real-life purges, and they’re spreading the notion via the Giant Lie Factory. Perhaps it's some last-minute marketing for The Purge: Anarchy, now playing in a theater near you. But it's almost certainly no coincidence that this hoax got started around the same time as the Ferguson protests.
If you don’t read the taglines on movie billboards, a purge—as defined by the movie The Purge and its recent sequel—is a night on which everything is legal. The cops pack it in. Looters and murderers have a field day, and the audience has a good time.
On Friday night, in real life, Louisville, Kentucky, lost its mind when kids there started tweeting about a Louisville purge, and the grown-ups believed what the kids were telling them—something you should never do.
They started shutting down businesses and locking themselves in their homes. Police went on high alert, because, according to the cops there, "We have to err on the side of caution, to keep our city safe.”
You have to? Really? Even when what you’re preparing for, on the taxpayer's dime, is based on internet rumors that don’t even make sense when taken at face value?
Next, purge hysteria escalated because people started saying one had happened. A Redditor posted what they claimed was photographic evidence of a Louisville purge. According to the post, someone let a giraffe out of the Louisville zoo. This was—are you sitting down?—a lie. The image was taken from a different news story in a different city, eight months ago.
Also, we suggest that you guys stay safe if you go stalking because of purge threats in Detroit. Hopefully everything will be fine. -R— Larry Updates (@1DLarryNews) August 16, 2014
Next, a vortex of stupidity took hold. One Direction were gearing up for a performance in Detroit Sunday night, and either because of it or in spite of it, people started tweeting about a Detroit Purge. Such an event might set the stage for a tragedy if One Direction were to be robbed and beheaded by a roving gang of masked psychopaths.
By then the idea had caught fire, and it was everywhere.
THE PURGE DATES* Spread This around if you see your city ✖️ Be safe pic.twitter.com/74EgVVpDM2— VINE: ImJustinRay (@Imjustinray) August 16, 2014
Before long, there were people making up all kinds of stories about purges in every major city in America. Everyone gave themselves the rhetorical authority to tweet sensational nonsense by couching it in concern for others. Most tweets about Purges have the refrain “Be safe” tacked onto the end.
I liked the movie The Purge but with everything it's caused, it wasn't worth making the movie. if you live in Louisville be safe!— Shelby Waddell ✌ (@shelbyy512) August 16, 2014
Inevitably, with all these rumors swirling around, the idea of a St. Louis purge during the Ferguson protests was irresistible. It didn't happen. Ferguson got hit with a curfew, now in its second night. Looting wasn't exactly at an LA Riots level Saturday night, but just being outside was illegal. It was the exact opposite of The Purge.
But look, kids, there’s no purge coming to your town anyway. You 100 percent cannot just have a purge. Here's why:
Purges Are Impossible in the United States.
I'm going to take this seriously for a second.
No city or state in the US has the authority to declare a purge. If, hypothetically, the police intentionally backed off for a night, and the people who were the victims of crimes pressed charges afterward, but the bored receptionist at the police station was like, “Sorry your grandma was murdered, but nothing was illegal that night. Next!” they could just take their complaints to the state or federal level. It would be easy to argue, even though there’s no law that explicitly bans a jurisdiction from decriminalizing things like theft and murder. You would just use the always handy Ninth Amendment, which says you have rights not explicitly outlined in the constitution. It wouldn’t be hard to get a judge to agree that you have the unalienable right not to be murdered or robbed with the tacit approval of the local authorities.
The purge in the movie was made possible by amending the constitution. I feel like I would remember reading about it if there had been a 28th Amendment that added purges to the fabric of our political system.
Rumors of Violent Flash Mobs Are Mostly Racist Hysteria.
If the people spreading this idea around don't actually think crime is going to be legal, and instead they think a "purge" is just the new name for one of those violent flash mobs they heard about on TV, I've got more good news: That shit doesn’t really happen. “Wilding” isn’t really a thing, except when followed by "out." The Central Park Five case, often cited as the quintessential example of young people running amok, didn’t happen like you think. Bad things happened that night, but accounts of events were tainted by racism and paranoia.
People get in crowds sometimes, yes, and they lose their shit sometimes, yes. Ten unruly members of a peaceful crowd of 10,000 can cause the whole crowd to get blamed for a few stores being looted. Ferguson isn't the only case where something like this has happened. Cops tell stories to newscasters that further this "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" narrative because it keeps them in a job. Similarly, when a newscaster interviews Sylvester Stallone, he'll tell you it's a good idea to see The Expendables 3. That doesn't make it true.
For instance, looking for an example of a "violent flashmob," I found an often cited story from 2011 in which 1,000 gang members were supposedly fighting on a beach in Boston. It turns out there were just a few fights, and the vast majority of the people in that crowd were just guilty of hanging around while being black or Hispanic.
The Purge Is Just a Movie.
When I was 14, and the Columbine shooting had just happened, there were whispers in my school that the vast and powerful Trenchcoat Mafia would carry out a coordinated assault on every high school in America the following Friday. It was a dumb rumor in retrospect, but a really scary, non-movie thing had just happened in real life. I stayed home that Friday because, yes, I'm a coward, but there was an upside: I didn't want to go to school anyway, and I got a three-day weekend out of the deal. But as for the purge hoax, if you're a high schooler who responded to this movie-based rumor by locking yourself in your house during a weekend, that was dumb and a waste of a weekend.
Kids have wild imaginations. If you'd told me there was going to be a real-life Thunderdome, a real-life Logan's Run, or a real-life Battle Royale, I would have been too excited not to spread the rumors. Adults, though, are supposed to know the difference between science fiction movies and stuff that can actually happen.
The small but significant pockets of misbehavior in Ferguson and elsewhere last week were no match for the enormous shows of force the law enforcement machine demonstrated (and will apparently always demonstrate when people start to get out of line). That's not to say we have law and order, just that, to compensate for the lack of law and order, there are sudden surges of violence from the cops that have become routine.
America has a lot of problems with violence in the streets, but the fact that much of that violence is committed by law enforcement should tell you that if you think there's a purge coming, you’re focusing your paranoia in the wrong direction.
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Topics: urban legends, purges, the purge, Ferguson, crimes is legal, louisville, shutting down businesses, barricading yourself in your house, giraffes, Detroit, Louisville purge, One Direction, rumors, making up stories, be safe, horror movies, St. Louis Purge, Curfews, It's impossible for there to be a purge, The Constitution