On Sunday morning I was lounging around at Adam’s place after Nerds With Guitars played his annual Halloween party (pictures to come) when his lovely wife Meaghan brought up State of Affairs. She told me she had a story for me to cover, and as she read through it I was underwhelmed. Certainly it was right up my alley (the Alley of Castigating Social Injustice, for those of you who are new to this blog), but I told her there are only so many of these stories I can cover before I start grating like Johnny One-Note playing the kazoo (as a better writer than me once said). I have built this blog on the basis of being unflinchingly honest and cynical, but after a while people start to tire of my endless parade of rage.
Then she delivered the fact that made me change my mind. So without further ado, I give you the unbridled vitriol that keeps you coming back.
Anybody remember Coach Carter? You know, Sam Jackson as the hard-nosed basketball coach who forces his undefeated team to sit on the bench until their grades improve? The movie was based on the true story of real-life Richmond High School coach Ken Carter; it was barely ten years ago that his unconventional approach to coaching garnered Richmond national acclaim and heightened its academic reputation as a school to watch.
Well, not even a decade later, Richmond High (in Richmond, California) is once again in the headlines, but this time it’s not exactly the sort of heart-warming inspirational story Hollywood is likely to make a blockbuster out of.
Last weekend, during the school’s Homecoming dance, a 15 year-old girl (who is of course unnamed in the article) was brutally gang-raped by at least ten youths in a secluded area of the campus, while approximately ten or fifteen other people watched, took photos and texted their friends.
You see what I mean? * kazoo solo *
Like I said, when Meaghan was telling me about this story, she’d misread the article and thought it took place on a college campus, which wouldn’t have surprised me. Saddened me, yes, but I would have been forced to shake my head and concede these things do indeed happen when you mix newly-freed adolescents, alcohol and the sense of invincibility that comes with new-found independence. Then she told me it happened at a high school – and not just a high school, but a famous one – and that kicked me over the edge.
On the surface the story is sadly unremarkable – people get raped all the time, and I’ve even written about it before. Gang rape is a little bit more noteworthy, since stories about gang rape don’t tend to get an awful lot of airplay on the news. What makes this story really enraging, and thus worthy of my attention, are some of the quotes from school officials and students at Richmond (most of whom predictably didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisals).
My personal favourite came from Charles Johnson, a man whose title defies explanation: he’s a security specialist attached to the school. That a high school requires a security specialist at all is, according to my Canadian mentality, shocking, but what was more shocking was what he had to say:
“This is like a lot of schools, where most of the kids are good kids – and then, we know which ones are going wrong…[y]ou wouldn’t believe the stuff we have to put up with those few who go wrong – guns, dope busts, fighting…[w]e know that courtyard, and we’ve been waiting for something to happen there. I’m sorry it had to be this terrible.”
I’m sure the parents of this poor girl will be happy to know that Charles Johnson is “sorry” that his security team knew this area of the campus was a danger zone and clearly didn’t do enough to address the problem.
Too harsh? Look at what he said. “We know that courtyard, and we’ve been waiting for something to happen there.” What is it you were waiting for, Mister Johnson? Were you hoping the various gang members and “non-student” individuals on whom you want to blame this travesty would go around posting flyers to the effect of “come one, come all to the official Richmond High gang-rape (BYOB, condoms optional)”?
I know the issue of youth violence is far more prevalent in the United States, and especially in rougher areas like Richmond where gangs like the Crips have a major presence on the streets, but you would think the people responsible for children in areas like these would be more aware of the dangers and more proactive in defending the vulnerable element from this kind of crime. I’m sorry if I’m being unfair to the administration of Richmond High, but I really don’t feel like there’s any excuse for this.
What irritates me even more is the bent the San Francisco Chronicle took on the whole issue. Staff writer Kevin Fagan had this to say about the cause of this crime:
“Take the poverty-driven frustration of inner-city Richmond, a youth street culture that glorifies thugs and applauds degradation of women, and the desensitization of young men through violent video games, music and language, and you have a template for trouble.”
All right. Glorification of thugs? Yeah, I’ll grant you that. I’ve always taken issue with the way so-called “thug” culture is put up on this pedestal, especially considering I grew up in a decidedly middle-class neighbourhood where disenfranchised white kids put on airs of being from “tha streets, yo”. Give me a break, Theodore – you’re not a rapper and you’re never going to be. Pull up your damn pants. Same thing with degradation of women: I don’t care how many times Snoop Dogg tries to change my mind, I refuse to refer to the women around me as bitches and ho’s, nor do I feel the need to do anything untoward to them with any part of my body.
But none of this leads up to a valid reason why a bunch of kids ran train on some poor girl. Certainly not poverty – yes, it sucks being poor, but my personal response to it wouldn’t be to go rape somebody. And certainly not “desensitization” – while there’s some evidence to suggest that the prevalence of violent video games and other media is a factor in real-life violence, I just don’t buy it, and I think the Chronicle is being wishy-washy in their estimation of the situation.
I know what Fagan is trying to say, and I’m not trying to discount his basic premise: that is to say, the people in this area of Richmond are leading manifestly shitty lives thanks to a variety of factors. But once again, I fail to understand how rape is the logical output. Violence I can see – robbery, assault, vandalism – these are all things I would associate with a poor, rough neighbourhood. And yes, I suppose you could argue that rape is the next logical step in a culture of violence (if you can ascribe a word like “logic” to this situation). But I refuse to have sympathy for anyone involved in this nightmare just because they grew up poor and their older brother got them to join a gang. I could understand and even forgive a guy for robbing a store because his family is starving. I could understand beating the hell out of a rival gang member because it’s required of you within that cultural paradigm – and because if you don’t fight, you’re branded as weak and therefore a target. But rape is beyond the pale.
That said, I’m not a criminal justice expert, nor am I a psychologist, so don’t take my word for it.
To those morally bereft individuals who hung around to take in the show – to take pictures and (apparently) video of the attack – to invite others to come check it out – these people are worthy of my scorn, my castigation, and my unremitting judgement.
I don’t care where you’re from, what your socioeconomic or racial or religious background is, or how bad your life has been. If you can stand around watching a young girl get violated without so much as calling the police, you’re unworthy to breathe the same air I do. I’m not suggesting you get directly involved – I know it’s a rough culture and you’d be inviting retribution – but you clearly had a cell phone if you were taking photos and video. You could have left, called 911, and saved this girl a lifetime of emotional trauma. You could have done something. In short, you could have been a human being. And no amount of exposure to gang shootouts, Dr. Dre lyrics or Grand Theft Auto is going to get you off the hook.
I could wax philosophic on who dropped the ball here: the school administration, their associated security forces, the city of Richmond, the whole rotting core of the United States – but frankly, none of that armchair philosophy is going to un-rape that poor girl.
So why do I bring it up?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the microcosm versus the macrocosm. Everybody seems to feel powerless in this day and age. The world has gotten so big and so complicated the general consensus seems to be “there’s nothing I can do, so I’ll just look after myself”. Incidences like this one happen and people sit around and blame society, media, race relations, the economic downturn – what have you. Anything they can in order to avoid pointing the finger inward. But the bottom line is this: incidences like this one happen when good people do nothing. You can effect change.
Are you going to grow up to become President? Not bloody likely. Are you going to Save The World? No. But can you stop a young woman from being violated right in front of you? Maybe you can. Can you help make your neighbourhood a safer place? I bet you could. At the end of the day, nobody wants these things to happen. I don’t think any right-thinking person could say they enjoy the idea of young women being raped. So what can you do, personally, in your own small way, to contribute to positive change?
What, are you waiting for me to give you the answer? That’s not my job. I’m just some asshole blog writer with too many opinions. I do my part in my own ways. You need to find ways to do the same. In my (aforementioned) opinion, it’s your responsibility as a member of your family, of your social group, of your community, to work together with other right-minded people to see that crimes like these don’t get committed if you have anything to say about it.
And in my opinion, you do. Now stop reading this and start figuring out your plan.
See? Even when I’m cynical my message is positive. For the most part. Sort of. Sometimes.
Oh hell. I’ll just stick to what I’m good at. There will be something more entertaining tomorrow, I promise.