Columbus Store Repels Loiterers With Classical Music

Last week, a Columbus convenience store started blasting classical music from its doorstep. The employees wanted to create a more pleasant, tranquil atmosphere for their customers and, as a handy byproduct, to irritate and disperse the young people that regularly loiter outside, reports WBNS-10TV.

Businesses have increasingly used sound in the last few years as a weapon against youths who, with few other places to go, often make shopping areas their stomping ground, sometimes drinking, fighting, vandalizing, and alienating older shoppers.

By 2008, as many as 3,500 "Mosquitoes" were scattered around British malls, public parks and shopping districts, emitting a mind-blitzing buzz inaudible to anyone over the age of 25. That way, young people quickly became too annoyed to linger, while adults -- presumably with more money and less desire to binge drink in public -- were left undisturbed.

The business owners association in Washington, D.C.'s Gallery Place installed the same device last year by a nearby metro station. Gallery Place Partners claims that the noise can be heard by people of all ages, and not just teens, but that the repetitive beep beep beep is perfectly calibrated to chafe the eardrums of loiterers.

Sonic manipulation is an old strategy. As the legend goes, the town of Hamelin, Germany invited a rat-catcher sometime in the Middle Ages to play his pipe and lure all the rodents away. When residents refused to pay the Pied Piper for his services, he hypnotized all the town's young residents with his magic pipe and led them away too.

The only difference was that in Hamelin music was used to attract youth, not repel them. Also, in this example, the children's fate was a little worse than a headache.

Some locals have branched out into other senses. In Mansfield, U.K., members of a town neighborhood group installed pink lights on the street, not only to repel young men who deemed the rosy shade uncool, but also any youth with acne troubles. The lamps, sometimes used by beauticians, perfectly highlight every blemish on your skin.

"So any teenager standing there trying to act big and tough will be seen as the spotty little 'herbert' they really are," one resident told The Telegraph.

Many hail these new anti-loitering efforts as inspired, particularly because they encourage young people to move along on their own. Others think weaponizing classical music and high-pitched beeping is a disturbing kind of social control. No public policing can be positive, some think, if it makes children cry and toddlers panic.

The children's commissioner for England, in fact, led a campaign called "Buzz Off" to get the devices off the streets.

"What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children?," the director of civil liberties group Liberty said to the BBC. Young people loiter, the argument goes. It's what they do. And pushing them out of your area and into another is no real solution.

The European Parliament voted against a ban in 2008, but two years later the Council of Europe voted to prohibit the device, arguing that it violated the human rights of adolescents and constituted "degrading treatment," with unknown potential health effects. But this ban has not actually come into force.

Meanwhile, private businesses like the Columbus convenience store are allowed to play whatever music they want.

So if employees and customers enjoy Mozart, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, great. And if those artists happen to make troublesome young loiterers run a mile, all the better.

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