Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When something like this happens, you must ask yourself, "Where were the adults?"

Psychologists have long observed and commented on a phenomenon in which an individual caught up in a large group of people absorbs the ethos of that group. If I might explain it further for the purposes of clarification, the excitement, the emotion, the raw electricity of the moment engulfs a crowd of people like a tidal wave, and an individual caught up in that crowd, no matter how meek or mild that individual might be, gets swept along right along with the crowd and often commits acts far outside the character and personality of the individual that he or she later regrets and cannot even offer explanation.

I mention this phenomenon because it has been the explanation most offered up to as a reason for the atrocity that occurred in Richmond, California*, this past weekend. In Richmond, for two hours on Saturday night following a school homecoming dance, a fifteen year old child was beaten, robbed and repeatedly raped by several suspects over a two hour period.

These details alone should be enough to make one pause for a moment in an effort to catch their breath even as their heart pounds within their chest in outrage. This should be enough to cause one to shake their head rapidly and violently to and fro in utter disbelief, but the story only worsens from here because this atrocity took place in front of an audience.

As the girl lay semi-conscious on a bench, on-lookers and passerby looked on without offering help or assistance or even reporting it. In fact, some laughed, some took pictures, and some even took the time to strip her of her jewelry. [Click here for original report.]

But the notion of the mob mentality is in no way sufficient as an explanation because implicit in that explanation is the notion that somehow those involved just got caught up in the moment and could not control themselves, and not only that, this explanation does not account for those who watched or who might have passed by without attempting to intervene or even get help.

However, I believe what is most telling in this incident is the fact that those who have been arrested or have been identified as involved thus far all range in age from 15 to 19. In other words, this is a case of young people victimizing young people. It seems as if those most threatening the safety of young people are not adults but young people themselves. And before we begin to make the old charge that young people today have lost their minds, I must ask you, “Where were the adults in all this?”

Maybe, just maybe, my childlike imagination gets the best of me sometimes, and maybe the images conjured up by my subconscious tend to sometimes be overly fantastical, but the image that comes most readily to mind is that image from the movie Dawn of the Dead in which the zombies roam the street in hordes, moving slowly and decidedly toward their next victim.

There used to be commercial that ran each night that posed the question, “It is ten o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” I suspect more and more the answer for a lot of parents would be no.

And I know this is being to sound like every other thing that I have written, but the point I continue to attempt to drive home is our responsibility as responsible adults for our kids, not just our biological children but all children. Any society or any culture or, better still, community is measured first and foremost by the condition of its children or by how well it cares for its young. And it follows from this incident that we are doing really poorly protecting our young people from themselves.

How can someone so young commit an act so heinous? How can someone so young be so callous as to stand and watch and/or even participate in a crime of this magnitude? Where were all the adults when this crime occured, and where were all the adults when their hearts began to harden?

I do not offer any apologies for the young men involved, and my heart goes out to the young girl and her family. However, allow me please just to make this point. This crime was committed by young people who were entrusted to the care of adults. But somewhere the process of childrearing fell through. Somewhere, perhaps, someone failed in their duties. But if we remain a community, it becomes incumbent on us to put into place the necessary measures to see that all our children, all our young people are cared for, even those that do not bear our name.

And perhaps you are doing as you are supposed to do. Perhaps you are loving and raising your children just as you have been charged to do. But what of those in our community raising themselves? What of those in our community not receiving the requisite nurturing or training? These are the ones who most constitute a direct threat to your own. These are the ones in which the mob mentality is a constant state of mind. And where are you in all this?

* When I originally made this post, a reader pointed out that erroneously reported the city as Oakland when it is in actuality Richmond, California; however, in my recall of the Bay Area, I mistakenly conflated the two areas.

Also of interest:


Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

Wow. What a tragic and disgusting story. It literally turns my stomach to think of the corporate acceptance of rape amongst these boys. It reminds me of the importance of supervising my kids, yes. But I also think all of this starts at a much earlier age, when we teach our kids about empathy and character and integrity. This is something that these boys are clearly lacking, and a lack of compassion seems to be a growing virus. It's frightening.

rhythm said...

i was just about to post on this when i saw yours. i was almost brought to tears at my desk at work. i'm truly at a loss.

and i don't even know what to post on my own blog because at the moment, i'm still stunned.

Kim said...

This story is both sick and sad. It's one thing to happen upon a crime and be to frightened to get involved, walk away but atleast call the cops, but to not do anything and watch for entertainment purpose and perhaps join in says alot about our society and how seriously we take the crime of rape. Now what will this poor girl have to deal with next-- another assault because for sure she will be accused of being party to a crime against herself for drinking.. Now watch as we all feign pious outrage and that will be all.

Renee said...

I have not been able to write about this despite numerous requests from my readers. I find this crime so heinous as to shock an pretense I have about sensibility. I have always known that women are a vulnerable class within society, but this just completely shatters me. This is what the rape apologism that we have normalized leads to. This is what happens when we teach boys that they have the right to control and abuse women. We may not do so overtly but each time we excuse small incidents with the phrase "boys will be boys," we only encourage escalations. Will there ever be a time when women will be safe? Will there ever be a time when possessing a vagina does not make one a ready target?

Max Reddick said...


The whole lack of compassion is indeed frightening. Younger and younger children are committing ever more atrocious acts, and I truly don't believe they even ever get the complete gravity of their acts.


I, like you, was completely speechless. I cannot imagine what that young lady must have went through, what she must have felt. And every time I think of her, I think of my own daughters and get that much more upset.


I am with you on the pious outrage. Derrion Albert has all but fallen out of the news now. We seem to have forgotten and moved on. But stories like this are appearing more and more frequently. At some point, we are going to have to confront this head on and come up with some real solutions.


I have two daughters, and I worry about them to no end. I only feel realized when they are finally home under my roof.

Max Reddick said...

@ Renee

Keep in mind they buried a six year old girl here today who went missing then was found dead. I was a nervous wreck from that and then this. I remember reading somewhere that a war had been declared on our daughters. But you have brought up a question for exploration--When will our daughters be able to feel safe?

curlykidz said...

This is horrifying. I hurts me to think of my girls going through something like this.

RainaHavock said...

I just got finished with a post about fear. How does one not lose their mind in this world with all these things going on? That girl probably looked at some of those boys before in the hallway, had a class with them, may have even talked to them at one time yet this happened. It's scary.

Keith said...

This story really makes me sick and angry. All the people involved in this are monsters. Not such the creeps who brutally raped her either, but the people who looked on, cheered them, you name it. Somebody should have done something.

I do notice that many adults today don't supervise their children. I work at night. Where I'm at, I will constantly see teenagers of all ages and even kids younger than that out of the street all by themselves. I often wonder where the parents are and why they aren't keeping up with their kids.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

I wrote about the rape at my primary personal blog, Whose Shoes are These Anyway and mentioned "Genovese Syndrome," but that aside I've been meditating on increasing youth violence at my side blog, The Urban Mother's Book of Prayers off and on for a year. I should probably start giving that blog more attention if for no other reason than to do a personal spiritual dissection of what's going on with us and our young people.

I appreciate the thoughtful attention you've given to this topic. It's a difficult subject to cover, both the rape and the crowd that watched, laughed, and took pictures.

Thank you, Max. said...

Hi there!

I saw the news report about this yesterday and I am not sure that I am shocked because I see such inhumanity and moral depravity in our society at younger and younger ages...

I just don't understand one piece of the story... the mob who watched it happen doesn't surprise me...

On the news, the reporter stated that the girl went outside to wait for her father to pick her up. Ok. If the area is dangerous, WHY didn't her parents tell her to stay inside? If her father showed up at the appointed time, why didn't he call police when he arrived to pick her up and couldn't find her?

I realize I am asking questions that take away from the main point you are making though.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

PPR_Scribe said...

Slightly off topic: We really need to change the way sexual assaults are reported:

The victim, a student, remained hospitalized Monday with injuries that were not life-threatening.

"She was raped, beaten, robbed and dehumanized...

PPR_Scribe said...

These are the ones who most constitute a direct threat to your own. These are the ones in which the mob mentality is a constant state of mind. And where are you in all this?

Fair enough question. I am past the point of thinking that I have any direct sway over some of the youth who (I assume) were responsible for this and similar actions. I used to teach in Head Start classrooms. When I hear of stories like this I think, "That could have been one of my Head Start kids..."

Each one of them lived very challenging lives but they had one other thing in common: they were all 3-5 years old. They were young, babies. They were seen as still having potential to turn out well. I had high hopes for them and supplemented our meager little budget with my own meager little salary to make sure they Had.

But honestly, I have not made the same commitment to these kids' almost-grown counterparts. There are youth who I look at now and cannot see that 3-year old inside. That is as much a reflection on me as it is anything else. But whatever the cause it contributes to me joining in my own "mob mentality" that many of us, were we honest, fall prey to--where we lament and shake our heads, but otherwise feel helpless.

So that's where *I* am on this. Watching and SMH like lots of folks....

Charles J said...

I am in agreement with so many people on this topic all I can do is SMH, but at the same I think back to one month ago and my 17 year old female cousin told me at her high school a girl was caught performing oral sex on 3 high school boys. I was told that as the girl was picked up by her mother the entire school went outside pointed and laughed! She is now in a mental instituition.

We live in such an oversexualized culture right now, especially children of color and there is no value put on the female body other than as a sexual object. So I am sad to say but it does not suprise me at all when I hear a 15 year old was raped by a group of boys (this is called a gang bang) which is very popular in inner cities and that there were a group of other people watching. That whole scene almost sounds like a live action porno movie acted out.

Where is the community? Still living in the boys will be boys, hypermasculine way of thinking. If we don't start raising our sons, nephews, cousins etc and telling them that you treat a woman as if she is your sister, aunt or grandmother than we are continue to have these isssues.

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