Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stopping the Violence

Last week, I wrote about the notorious gang rape of a 15–year–old girl in Richmond, Calif.

Kevin Fagan reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that, in hindsight, this horrendous crime was practically inevitable.

"All it needed was a spark," Fagan writes, "the elements were already there."

It's a cautionary tale that could probably be told in many metro jurisdictions these days — an "out–of–the–way, poorly lit" location, a "vulnerable girl" and "a mix of the bad boys, the wannabe bad boys, and the hardened, grown–up bad boys who had aged out of school."

And law enforcement that appears to feel helpless when confronted with this kind of thing.

"All it took for things to lurch out of control," Fagan reports, "was opportunity."

Fagan quoted a local community organizer who spoke of the rape being a "teachable moment" that could bring some attention to "street culture and the need to change that mindset."

Fagan's article sheds some light on this event for those of us who are not in that community, where a lot of information seems to be spreading by word of mouth. And I am certainly sympathetic to the cousin of one of the suspects, who urged the reporter to "tell people we're not animals, like the media say we are. We are not bad people."

I'm sure they aren't bad people. Well, excuse me, but I still find it hard to understand how so many people could stand by and watch while a young girl was brutally assaulted for more than two hours.

To their credit, though, her parents have urged the community, through their pastor, to "stop the violence."

"Please do not respond to this tragic event by promoting hatred or by causing more pain," the family implored the community in a statement that was delivered by their pastor yesterday. "We've had enough violence already in this place."

That is a magnanimous statement to make, considering the girl was released from the hospital a few days ago and faces a lengthy healing process. But the statement seems to be in keeping with the girl's caring nature. An English teacher who knows the girl told Fagan she is "the type who would care so much if this happened to another girl."

Be that as it may, I'm not sure I could be as generous under such circumstances.

"If you need to express your outrage, please channel your anger through positive action," the girl's parents said through their pastor. "Volunteer at a school. Go help a neighbor. Be courageous in speaking the truth and in holding people accountable. Work toward changing the atmosphere in our schools and in this community so that this kind of thing never happens again."

All good suggestions that can make their corner of the world a better place.

But can they change the destructive mindset that made this crime possible in the first place?

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